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Newsletter #43 September - November, 1998

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        Some people love all cyberpunk novels, some people hate all cyberpunk novels, and some people (including me) are picky about cyberpunk novels. A few years ago I read, enjoyed, and recommended Rim by Alexander Besher ($5.99). He has now done a sort-of sequel, Mir ($23.00, due mid-June). It is set in the same future as Rim, and some of the characters from Rim show up towards the end of Mir, but the story line and most of the characters are new. There is some clever writing in Mir, and there are some clever ideas (especially the sentient tattoos that not only roam over a person's body while changing shape, but can even jump from body to body, and can conspire with other tattoos), but I didn't enjoy Mir as much as Rim. If I had more knowledge of Eastern religions, maybe I would have enjoyed it more. But I think what I was really looking for was a more coherent plot and a more satisfactory resolution.
        One of the other people who works at Uncle Hugo's loves all cyberpunk novels, and he grabbed the galley of Mir before I got to it. Because it was cyberpunk, he loved it. But he also thought it was weaker than Rim. [The publisher passed along some promotional temporary tattoos for Mir, but after you read the book you might not want one. The guy who grabbed Mir before I read it won't go near those tattoos.]

        The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World by Thomas M. Disch ($25.00) is being marketed as "A scintillating and often scathing account of the impact of science fiction on American culture." Much of the book fits that description. I've seen the book reviewed as "mean-spirited", and in places the book also fits that description. Much of the book involves Disch's personal impressions of aspects of science fiction and personalities in the science fiction field, and I often enjoyed those parts even if I disagreed with his conclusions. Some of the book consists of diatribes against aspects of American culture, and much of the time I enjoyed his comments and agreed with his conclusions.
        Disch is very harsh towards UFO fanatics, spiritualists, and Scientology (which he considers bad aspects of American culture, and he blames science fiction for their existance). Whereas Brian Aldiss considers Mary Shelley and Frankenstein as the beginning of the science fiction field, Disch dismisses Shelley and claims Edgar Allan Poe is the father of science fiction. His arguments are interesting, but I'm not willing to join a Holy War in favor of either Shelley or Poe. His arguments regarding the feminizing of science fiction are highly ideological, and again I found them interesting but not persuasive, although I agree that the goal for most people in the sf field now is writing where you can't tell whether it was written by a man or a woman just from reading the prose.
        I'm glad I read the book, and I can certainly recommend it to people who are interested in one highly personal look at science fiction and American culture, but you shouldn't expect to find Absolute Truth here.

        Lucasfilm's Alien Chronicles #1: The Golden One by Deborah Chester ($5.99) is the first of a series that is supposedly going to reveal, by the end of the series, the source of the Force. There's no sign of that in the first book, nor is there any sign of humans, Wookies, or any other races from Star Wars.
        The Viis, a reptilian race, have an old empire covering many solar systems. Any time they meet another intelligent race, they steal any of their technology and culture that they think might be useful, and then conquer and enslave that race. This has been going on for hundreds of years, and the slaves vastly outnumber the Viis, even on their home world. Now, the empire is starting to slowly crumble and the birth rate of the Viis is also going down.
        This isn't packaged as a juvenile novel, but it would be great to give to a teenager. It's also fine for an adult who wants an old-fashioned space opera, where you don't need to be semi-expert in computers or astrophysics to follow the story line.

        I know that I'm going to hear complaints about David Weber's Echoes of Honor ($24.00, due around mid-September, signing October 20), just like I did about the previous book, In Enemy Hands ($22.00, $6.99 pb due mid-September 10). In all the earlier books, Weber tied up the story line in a single book and the action concentrated very much on Honor Harrington. With In Enemy Hands, Weber changed the formula. Honor's crew had to rescue her instead of her saving the day, and he left her and her crew behind enemy lines. He changes the formula even more with Echoes of Honor.
        As you'll recall from In Enemy Hands, the Peeps planned to stage a mock trial and mock public execution of Honor, so that they could then secretly torture secrets from her at their leisure. After they lose her (and they think she blew up at the end of In Enemy Hands), they decide at the beginning of Echoes of Honor to go ahead with the mock trial and execution anyway--the computers of the Peep's Public Information Director have lots of practice at such things. Now, the Alliance and Honor's family also think she is dead. The real Honor doesn't show up until almost 100 pages into the book, and only about half the book is about her. It seems that while everybody thinks Honor is dead, the war actually goes on without her, and that's what the other half of the book is about. Naturally, Honor's "death" plays a major role in the politics and moral both in the Alliance and among the Peeps.
        But Honor is busy during her half of the book. She's stranded on a physically hostile prisoner-of-war planet far behind enemy lines. It's not enough for her to merely escape--she first has to take over the entire planet, keep the enemy from realizing that they've lost control of the planet, and then find some way to get over a third of a million fellow prisoners-of-war off the planet and safely back to the Alliance.
        Naturally, she does it. But I still wanted to keep on reading, immediately, what happens next, even though I had reached the end of the novel.

        Ever since Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time fantasy series (Eye of the World ($6.99), The Great Hunt ($6.99), The Dragon Reborn ($6.99), The Shadow Rising ($7.99), The Fires of Heaven ($6.99), Lord of Chaos ($7.99), A Crown of Swords ($7.99), and The Path of Daggers ($27.95, due October 20) started selling huge numbers of books, lots of other writers and publishers have been trying to get a piece of the same market. To fit the Jordan formula, you need a series of fat fantasy books with a bunch of interesting, well-developed characters (some of them bright but innocent young people who become powerful and hardened by the adversities they endure), plenty of subplots, really nasty bad guys, all set in a big, richly detailed fantasy world. Terry Goodkind has been very successful with this formula (Wizard's First Rule ($6.99), Stone of Tears ($7.99), Blood of the Fold ($6.99) and Temple of the Winds ($7.99)), although he seems to enjoy writing graphic torture scenes much more than I enjoy reading them. Robin Hobb (Assassin's Apprentice ($6.50), Royal Assasin ($6.99), and Assassin's Quest ($6.99)) and J. V. Jones (The Baker's Boy ($5.99), A Man Betrayed ($5.99), and Master and Fool ($5.99)) have also done well in following this formula. My favorite addition to the field is George R.R. Martin, whose second book in the series that started with A Game of Thrones ($6.99) has been rescheduled several times but is now promised for early next year in hardcover.
        I was happy to receive an advance copy of Holly Lisle's The Secret Texts Book 1: Diplomacy of Wolves ($12.99, due by mid-October). I've read many of her other fantasies, and found all but one to be very good. One thousand years before the story began, there was a magical war that devastated the world and killed most of the magic users. To most people, it seems that the world has been purged of magic. The major families struggle for advantages against each other, but seem to use diplomacy and ordinary military means to achieve their goals. Occasionally, a shape-shifter is born, but the religious ceremonies seem to detect and kill such individuals while they are still young children. But not all is as it seems. A shapeshifter who manages to grow to adulthood will be able to work magic, and if a shapeshifter is crafty and secretive enough to avoid detection until adulthood, they will be introduced to a dirty secret by their family--all the major families have secret societies of magic users that use their magic against the other major families. And all the secret societies are trying to rediscover the more powerful magics that nearly destroyed their world one thousand years before.
        Young diplomat Kait Galweigh is a shapeshifter who doesn't yet know about the secret societies, but she has discovered a plot by the House of Sabir to attack the House of Galweigh, and she has to do something about it. Meanwhile, magic is returning to the world; a magic artifact that has been inactive for one thousand years is now trying to draw magic users to it so that it can become active again; and gods and goddesses are getting active in the human plotting.
        Lisle almost got the formula right, but not quite. The book simply isn't fat enough. To fit the formula, it should have been twice as fat. As with any book with such a detailed world and so many subplots, it takes a while to get all the pieces firmly set in the reader's mind before the pacing of the story can really pick up, and then the story can really take off. I would have been happier with more story before she ended the book, although she did end it at a reasonable spot.
        An author who really got the formula right is David Drake, who has previously been known primarily for his military sf. In Lord of the Isles ($6.99), we also have a thousand year cycle for magic, and the world is moving into the strong-magic part of the cycle. One scholarly but relatively weak wizard who tried to save herself from the backlash from a very strong but foolish wizard's spell of a thousand years ago finds herself washed up on the shore by a small fishing village just before lots of other people start arriving at the village and disrupting the lives of the people who live there. Soon, four young people from the village are touched by destiny and are off on adventures around the world, being manipulated by gods, demons, wizards, and spirits of famous characters who died one thousand years before. The second in the series, Queen of Demons ($25.95), arrived a few weeks ago. Although I haven't had time to read it yet, feedback from customers has been very positive.

        Two recent books that are obviously packaged to reach the same audience have been receiving very favorable comments from customers, although I haven't had time to read either. The Runelords by David Farland ($25.95) is the first of a new epic fantasy series. Legends edited by Robert Silverberg ($27.95) is a massive book full of new "short novels" (most 60 to 80 pages) set in the worlds of popular series, including a new Dark Tower story by Stephen King; a new Discworld story by Terry Pratchett; Terry Goodkind telling about the origin of the Border between realms in The Sword of Truth series; Orson Scott Card has a new Alvin Maker story; Robert Silverberg with a new story of Lord Valentine; Ursula K. LeGuin presents a sequel to her Earthsea series; Tad Williams has a story in the age before Memory, Sorrow and Thorn; George R.R. Martin's story is set a generation before A Game of Thrones; Anne McCaffrey has a new Pern story; Raymond Feist has a new Riftwar tale; and Robert Jordan's tells of the events leading up to The Eye of the World, including the meeting of Lan and Moiraine and the beginning of the search for the child who must grow to lead in the Last Battle. Although this book has only been in the store for a few days, I've already heard lots of favorable feedback on Legends.

        The Essential Bordertown edited by Terri Windling and Delia Sherman ($24.95) is a collection of new Bordertown stories, not a "Best of" collection, as some customers have thought. If you've liked the other Bordertown books, you'll like this one. I certainly did, although I still prefer the novels to the short stories.
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