November 22


Archived Newsletter Content


Newsletter #44 December, 1998 - February, 1999

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        I've been a big fan of British science fiction author Peter F. Hamilton, and especially his series that began with The Reality Dysfunction (split into 2 books in the U.S. at $5.99 each) and continued with The Neutronium Alchemist (also split into 2 books in the U.S. at $6.50 each). His next book, A Second Chance at Eden ($6.50, due early December) is not the next novel in the series, but is the next best thing. It is a collection of seven stories set in the same universe, covering the period from 2070 AD (shortly after the affinity bond gene was first spliced into human DNA) through 2586 AD (shortly before the beginning of The Reality Dysfunction). I think the collection would be enjoyable to somebody who has not read the novels, but it is very enjoyable to an impatient follower of the series who would really like to get ahold of the final novel of the series.

        Sewer, Gas & Electric by Matt Ruff ($6.99) is the most fun novel I've read in a couple of years. Because of Ruff's zaniness, other reviewers have compared him to Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins, but I thought Sewer, Gas & Electric felt like something Neal Stephenson could have written between Zodiac and Snowcrash.
        First, let me clear up some confusion caused by the packaging. Several customers have seen the reference on the cover to the Sewer, Gas & Electric trilogy, and asked when the other two books would be out. The story is all contained in this single book, which is divided into three sections: Sewer (in which a young man from Maine goes to work for the New York City sewer department, is handed a pair of plastic dog tags, and told to wear them at all times "In case you become eligible for early retirement in a way that makes you hard to identify." The great white shark he encounters in the sewers is named Meisterbrau); Gas (in which a news blimp is scheduled to cover the campaign appearance by a presidential candidate who thinks that imminent domain is a form of food poisoning, but Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather are convinced to grab the blimp and use it to cover the confrontation between the eco-terrorist submarine Yubba-Dabba-Doo and a band of mercenaries hired by the comptroller of public opinion of the world's largest privately owned multinational corporation, Gant Industries); & Electric (in which two secret artificial intelligences do battle using both human and robot followers).
        Set primarily in 2023 AD, and primarily in New York City and nearby New Jersey, the cast of characters also include a 181-year-old woman who is a veteran of the American Civil War but can't get many people to believe her; Ayn Rand, or at least a computer's recreation of her personality; Queen Elizabeth, who is portrayed in a way that the royal family would not appreciate but I thought was wonderful; an agent for the FBI's Un-Un-American Activities Division (so named to keep the public from mistaking their tactics for the kind of things done during the 1950's by the Un-American Activities folks); the head of Creative Accounting and a public opinion engineer for Gant Industries; and far too many other zany characters to list here.
        There is some mystery element in the book: A corporate raider figured out a way to take over Gant Industries, but is killed before he can put the plan into action in a way that leaves the police with no suspects. And by the end of the book, the mystery is solved. But most of the book is dedicated to showing a big picture of the world, rather than concentrating on solving this mystery element.

        The Golden Globe by John Varley ($22.95) is set in the same universe as Steel Beach ($5.99) and many of his other works, where aliens came and kicked the human race off the Earth because the humans were a threat to the intelligent life on Earth--the whales and dolphins. The humans can try to survive on the Moon and much of the rest of the solar system, but can never return to Earth. Although The Golden Globe shares the universe Steel Beach and to a slight extent continues some of the plot threads at the end of Steel Beach, it can be read on it's own.
        Sparky Valentine, the main character in The Golden Globe, is a Shakespearean actor and con man who is on the run through most of the book. He gets a part he likes (under an assumed name each time, so that he can be on the stage without being found by the many people on both sides of the law who are after him), and he'll almost certainly have to leave soon because of another batch of fresh mischief he's gotten himself involved with off-stage. In this manner, we get to see the outposts of the human race beyond Pluto, and then various stops inward towards Luna. And with various flashbacks we get to see how Sparky got to be the kind of man he is.
        Although I had enjoyed Steel Beach, I had found it slow to get through. Because of that, and because I'm not really into Shakespeare, I had concerns about The Golden Globe. But I found it hard to put down, much better paced than Steel Beach, and I was impressed with some of the writing tricks used by Varley (such as the hibernation dreams as flashbacks after Sparky fled Pluto). If you're a Varley fan, you already know that you want this book. If you haven't tried Varley, The Golden Globe would be a wonderful introduction.

        I received advance reading copies of two fantasies that were both first novels by women and I thought it might prove interesting to read and compare them. The first one I read was The Green Rider by Kristen Britain ($23.95), which came with some promotional material from DAW saying that this was only the second time they had published a first novel in hardcover (the other being Tad William's Dragonbone Chair) and comparing the book to Mercedes Lackey at her best. While fans of Lackey, and especially of her Arrow series (titles & prices), will also like The Green Rider, this book is not as good as Lackey at her best.
        The Green Rider starts with the idea that powerful magic was used against evil a thousand years ago, but now none of the good guys know how to work powerful magic and powerful evil magic is returning, the third fantasy novel I've read with that premise in the last four months.
         Karigan G'ladheon is a teenage girl of a merchant clan who is running away from a prestigious school (after defeating with a sword a cheating young lordling, who then pulled strings to get her expelled) when she encounters a messenger for the king (a Green Rider), who is dying from 2 black arrows that are magical. The messenger gets her to promise that she will personally deliver the message to the king, and off she rides on his very talented horse, with his message pouch and his magical brooch, and with all of his enemies now on her trail. The story is easy to follow, without a lot of characters or subplots, and I'd guess at least 80% of the story is told from the viewpoint of Karigan, giving a sense of immediacy to the story. There were a few too many convenient occurrences for my taste, and I sometimes felt like yelling at Karigan, "Girl, you've got enough clues about what's happening--why can't you figure out what's going on?" But the storytelling was compelling enough to keep me up to 1:30 a.m. a couple of nights in a row, which is better than most books will do. The Green Rider tells a complete story, although I wouldn't be surprised to see Karigan come back in another book.
        The Last Dragon Lord by Joanne Bertin ($25.95) starts with a premise I've not encountered before: some rare humans become weredragons when they grow up. These special individuals can turn themselves at will into dragons, fly, breath fire--the whole dragon bit. They also live for many centuries. But they spend most of their time in human form and think like humans. Truehumans (the ones who can't turn into dragons) have found that calling on a panel of dragonlords (the weredragons) as arbitrators can often avoid wars. Linden is the "last dragonlord" of the title, which means that nobody has become a dragonlord since his change occurred six centuries before the story begins. Linden is part of a three-dragonlord panel sent to the small kingdom of Cassori to try to prevent a civil war.
        The Last Dragonlord has a much more complex plot and many more characters to keep track of than The Green Rider, and frankly the characters (both the good guys and the villains) were much brighter in The Last Dragonlord. In the early part of The Last Dragonlord, while the characters and plot threads were being introduced, I had no trouble putting the book down at a reasonable time of night and turning off the light. But once all the pieces were in place, the story took control of me, and I found myself unable to put the book down at 3:00 a.m., so I disabled my alarm clock and kept on reading. The Last Dragonlord also tells the complete story in a single book. Highly recommended.

        As I was reading Sheri S. Tepper's Six Moon Dance ($23.00), it occurred to me that Tepper and C.J. Cherryh often are facing the same challenge as writers, but solve the problem in very different ways. Both writers often portray very alien cultures (both human and non-human), which means that the reader needs a fair amount of information before the events of the early part of the story will start to make sense. How does a writer get the reader to keep reading until things start to make sense? Cherryh takes the common approach of lots of action, and she does it very well. The reader is so caught up in the action that (s)he keeps reading to find out "what happens next?" until (s)he has absorbed enough background to understand what's really going on in the novel. Tepper takes a very different approach--she presents a complex puzzle and expects curiosity to force the reader to keep gathering clues until enough background is understood. I suspect that this difference in style explains why Cherryh has a larger following, but Tepper's smaller following is very loyal. (At Uncle Hugo's, a new Cherryh title will sell about three times as many copies between hardcover and paperback as a new Tepper title, but the hardcover sales will be about equal because a much larger percentage of Tepper's fans are willing to pay hardcover prices to read her work as soon as possible.)
        In Six Moon Dance, we have a number of different human cultures explored, as well as a couple of non-human cultures. Many, many years before the story begins, a harshly male-dominant human culture colonized the world of Newholme. After some years, the entire human population suddenly and mysteriously disappeared, and the world was again opened for colonization. This time, a strongly female-dominant human culture colonized it successfully. But there is a native intelligent race on the planet that was missed when the planet was first opened for colonization. If word of this gets out, the humans will be forced to leave. Then, the Great Questioner (an artificially created ultimate Political-Correctness-monitor with wide-ranging powers from the Council of Worlds) decides to visit Newholme. The government of Newholme tries to conceal many things from her, including the non-human intelligent race; the fact that some of the original human colonists are still living (long after they should have died of old age) but they aren't quite as human as they once were; and how the government manages to keep the female birth rate so low that women are so treasured that nobody objects to them running and owning everything. I enjoyed working my way through the puzzle, but the powers of the Questioner were very troubling to me (including very severe penalties for the entire population of a planet because she didn't care for the actions of a non-democratic government).

        Steven Brust's first seven Vlad Taltos novels were paperback originals (Jhereg ($5.99), Yendi($5.99), Teckla ($5.99), Taltos ($5.99), Phoenix ($4.99), Athyra, and Orca ($5.99)), but he has switched publishers for the eighth Vlad Taltos (to Tor, who also published his related series The Phoenix Guards ($6.99) and Five Hundred Years After ($5.99), set on the same world much earlier in time and with a very different writing style). Dragon ($23.00, sgned copies available) is the first Vlad Taltos novel to be issued in hardcover.
        Vlad is an Easterner (i.e., a human on a planet where humans are a minority) and an enforcer/assassin for the Jhereg (the clan among the non-humans that runs the rackets). The first few books were fast paced, and Vlad always had a smart mouth. The last few books were slower paced and Vlad became more introspective. While the later books were well written and interesting, they simply weren't as fun as the earlier books. With Dragon, the action is fast again, Vlad has a smart mouth again, and it's a fun book. Brust uses a fairly non-linear story line for Dragon, but it works fairly well. If you tried to start reading the series with Dragon, you'd feel lost, so start at the beginning. If you like the first one, you'll get to Dragon before long.

        David Weber's Apocalypse Troll ($22.00, due early December) is a science fiction novel that is not connected to any of his other novels, although you might find that hard to believe for the first couple of chapters. The method of interstellar travel and the strategies for ship-to-ship battle are the same as readers are familiar with from his Honor Harrington universe.
        In the Apocalypse Troll universe, the solar system is visited late next century by a hostile alien race (called Kangas by the humans) that are determined to destroy every other intelligent race in the galaxy. The Kangas come in shooting, but the humans are still so divided and distrustful of each other, that the humans are well equipped to shoot back. Thus begins a war that has lasted for centuries. The humans suffered billions in casualties, but have finally driven the Kangas back to their last three solar systems, and the Kangas are getting desperate.
        Human Battle Division Ninety-Two is pulling back from the front for some badly-needed maintenance when they detect a much larger Kanga battle group far into human territory. The humans follow and figure out that the Kangas are going to try to travel back in time 40,000 years to destroy the humans while they're still living in caves. The humans attack, many of the humans and Kangas get killed, and the remains of both fleets end up in the solar system in 2007. Another battle in orbit around the Earth results in all but two of the fighters from the future dead (a human and a "troll", a cyborg warrior created by the Kangas to destroy humans), along with thousands of dead U.S. Navy personnel, who shot back when the Kangas started shooting at them. The troll is sufficiently well-armed to be able to wipe out the humans on its own, while the surviving human from the future has only her handweapon and her knowledge of her enemy available to save the human race.
        I enjoyed the book, but must point out one problem I had with it. Before a battle scene, Weber loves to describe in detail what weapons the fighters will be using, the calibre of the ammunition, the number of rounds in a magazine, etc., and I know that some of his fans love this kind of detail. But I found that it slowed the story down when the suspense should have been building.

        One of the most asked questions at Uncle Hugo's is: When will I be able to buy the sequel to George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones ($6.99)? A Clash of Kings will be out in a U.S. hardcover in early February at $25.95, but we've trying to get a handful of the earlier British hardcover at around $42.95 in time for holiday gift giving. Are you willing to wait an extra 8 weeks to save $17.00?
        A Clash of Kings is very good, but Martin expects the reader to be almost as familiar with the world as he is, so you'd be well advised to review A Game of Thrones before you start A Clash of Kings.
        By the end of A Game of Thrones, King Robert of the Seven Kingdoms had been killed with assistance from his queen, so that she could act as regent for his spoiled brat heir, Joffrey. The King's Hand, Eddard Stark, had been killed at the order of Joffrey. At the beginning of A Clash of Kings, Joffrey and his mother's family hold the capital; both of Robert's brothers are each claiming to be the rightful king; Eddard's son Robb has declared himself king of the North (one of the seven kingdoms forced to swear feality to one king hundreds of years before); the Viking-like forces of the Iron Islands have decided that conditions are ripe for them to go back to their old habits and carve out a new kingdom from the mess in the Seven Kingdoms; Daenerys Targaryens, the last survivor of the dynasty overthrown by King Robert, is on another continent with freshly hatched dragons and is trying to raise an army to take back the Seven Kingdom; and north of The Wall in the Haunted Forest a new power has arisen to unite the human outcasts and the non-human being and plans to lead them in an invasion of the Seven Kingdoms. And there's lots of plotting among lower-ranking characters. By the end of the book, two of the those who would be king, along with thousands of others, have died in a very nasty civil war, but the survivors are still plotting and slashing.
        While I was reading A Clash of Kings, I overheard a couple of customers grumbling about how modern weapons had taken all the "fun" out of war. Martin makes it vividly clear that even in an age of swords, a civil war was no fun for either the foot soldiers or the civilians.
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