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Newsletter #62 June - August, 2003

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        ((Frequencies)) by Joshua Ortega ($24.00, signed copies available) is a first novel, set primarily in Seattle about 50 years in the future, when everybody is required to have a bio-chip implanted so that the government can monitor everybody at all times--a result of using new technology to crack down on terrorism. The main character is Agent McCready, an unconventional FBI agent in charge of arresting people with thought-patterns too far out from normal--and his thought-patterns are so far out that he'd be arrested if he wasn't in charge of enforcing the law.
        The publisher compares it to 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451. It had the potential to be that good, but it didn't make it. There is a scene where the cops go into a corporate headquarters because a bio-chip shows somebody is freaking out, and when they arrive to drag the guy away they can tell he's freaking out because the corporation is illegally using subliminals in the flourescent lights to get more work out of their employees. So, they drag the guy away to a government workcamp, from which he will never return, and the corporation gets away with what they are doing. We also learn that some of the scientists who invented this technology decades ago became very concerned about how the government was using the technology, and have been running a high-tech underground ever since.
        Unfortunately, most of the book concentrates on the privileged few (the cops and the super-rich, who can get away with almost anything) instead of looking at how the system affects the average guy. So, the book is fun and light, not grim. You could label it Dystopia Lite™.
        (The author says that the sequel will be darker and will look at the underground resistance movement.)

        A couple of years ago, Archangel Protocol ($6.99) came out from local author Lyda Morehouse. It was an interesting blend of private detective and cyberpunk, set in a theocracy in 2076. Most people have their brains wired so that they can LINK directly into the computer system without need of external hardware. But only people who are members of government-recognized religions are allowed to be LINKed. Those who are not LINKed are a new underclass, unable to compete for most jobs and left out of the culture of the LINKed majority.
        Deidre McMannus used to be a cop specializing in computer crime, but after she was ex-communicated for reasons unclear to everybody, she could no longer be LINKed and lost her job as a cop. She became a private investigator. She was approached by some very interesting new potential clients. In the presidential election, one candidate is way ahead in the polls because angels have been appearing on the LINK endorsing him. The real angels are upset about these fake cyber-angels, and they've come to Earth in human form and want her to get to the bottom of things. She does, and the book went on to win the Shamus Award for Best Mystery Novel of the year.
        Last year the second book in the series, Fallen Host ($6.99), came out. Most of the angels have decided to stay on Earth rather than go back to heaven. Satan (who prefers to go by the name Morningstar) decided that he had better either find or create the Anti-Christ. Archangel Michael has a relationship with Deidre, but he has trouble dealing with free will. The second book had less action but more humor than the first, but both were very good.
        The third book in the series, Messiah Node ($6.99, due June 3, signing at Uncle Hugo's Saturday, June 14 from 1 to 2 pm) shifts back towards action and away from humor. Michael has gotten out of rehab and hopes to be able to hold down a job, and he really wants to move back in with Deidre and their daughter Amariah, but Deidre's not interested. Elijah shows up at a Seder and wants to take away Amariah and train her to be the Messiah. Morningstar has found his Anti-Christ-a part-cyborg Inquisitor for the Vatican. A bunch of people want to start worshiping Page, the Artificial Intelligence who considers himself Islamic, and we get to watch how Congress goes about determining how a group becomes first an official cult and then moves up from there to be an official religion. (You have to be a member of the clergy of an official religion in order to hold public office.) While this book is not as startlingly original as the first of the series, I think it's the best written.

        Those Who Walk in Darkness by John Ridley ($24.95) started out seeming like a comic book novel, but quickly became much better.
        Over a decade before the novel starts, "metanormals" started to appear in the population, looking like normal humans, but with special super powers. Some were good guys and helped the cops; some were bad guys and used their super powers for evil. Society learned to depend on the super good guys to defeat the super bad guys, because ordinary humans had almost no chance to defeat them. But as the battles became more frequent, more normal humans started getting killed on the sidelines. When a huge battle between the good and bad metanormals in San Francisco killed over 600,000 normal humans, the President issued an Executive Order giving all metanormals 30 days to get out of the country or they'd be shot on sight.
        Because any of the metanormals could wipe out a SWAT team without breaking a sweat, police departments set up new MTac teams with specialized equipment and tactics to go after metanormals. Even with the special equipment and tactics, any MTac officer has a 1 in 4 chance of death on any mission.
        Officer Soledad O'Roark has wanted to strike back at the metanormals ever since San Francisco, and she has finally made it to MTac. This novel is about what the demands of the job do to the MTac cops, and what the rage and hatred that drive Soledad does to her. Forget the comic book good guys and bad guys-this is a gritty, dark character study of the cops who have to deal with a very dangerous job.

        The Wreck of Heaven ($6.99) by Holly Lisle is the sequel to Memory of Fire ($6.99), which was recommended here about a year ago.
        In this World of Gates series, there are a number of worlds that certain individuals can move between using gates, but sometimes with dangerous results. Somebody from "upworld" can do magic if they travel "downworld", but with major negative effects "upworld". What humans used to think of as the "Old Gods" came from "upworld" and the magic they performed on Earth eventually killed the worlds they came from. There are secret groups of Sentinels who have a strict code of ethics and try to prevent anybody who does not subscribe to their code of ethics from using gates to move between the world.
        In The Wreck of Heaven, some characters from the first book are fighting against a race of "upworld" beings who were the basis of Earth legends of dragons. These critters have magically made themselves immortal, but they demand a lot of magic for their needs. They've learned that the best way to generate a vast amount of magic is to intentionally kill an "upworld" planet with all of it's inhabitants, and they are almost ready to kill Earth.
        I didn't enjoy the second book as much as the first book, but it was still better than many of the other books I've read in the past 3 months. You definitely should start with the first in the series.

        Fat White Vampire Blues by Andrew Fox ($13.95) is being pushed hard by the publisher, so I gave it a try even though I don't normally read vampire books. The publisher compares it to a mix of Dracula with A Confederacy of Dunces, and proclaims "He's undead, overweight, and can't get a date." I was expecting humor, but that's not what I got.
        Jules Duchon grew up in New Orleans, reading comic books and pulp magazines, and became a vampire before the start of WW II. When WW II started, he got a costume for himself and turned a young lad into a vampire so he could have a sidekick (also in a comic-book-style costume) and they patriotically fed on Nazi spies and third columnists that were trying to sabotage New Orleans docks and war industries. But after the war, the young lad became a cross-dresser, they had a falling out, and the young lad went off to California to become leader of a cult. Things have been going downhill for Jules ever since. In modern times, he's over 450 pounds, worried about becoming diabetic, drives a gypsy taxi and feeds on street people.
        The writing is good, the sense of place is very good, but I just couldn't develop a positive emotional connection to the main character. Jules is dumb white trash (although he does have good taste in music) and most of his problems are because of his attitudes and denseness. It's only after other, more interesting, characters begin to get involved in his problems that I became interested in the story. By the end of the book I was glad I had read it, but I didn't get a single laugh from the book. Scenes that the author probably intended to be funny, I viewed as sad and pathetic.

        I finally got around to reading The Merchants of Souls by John Barnes ($7.99), third in the series that began with A Million Open Doors ($5.99) and continued with Earth Made of Glass ($5.99). Each novel tells a complete story, but you should read them in order because of the development in character relationships that move forward from book to book.
        The basic concept here is that much of Earth's culture has become homogenized, but long ago various groups headed to the stars at less than the speed of light to set up colonies to preserve old cultures or create new cultures. Recently, a new invention has made instantaneous travel possible, and the Thousand Cultures are suddenly in close contact with each other as well as with the vast majority of humanity back in the Solar system. The Office of Special Projects is supposed to be helping to bring the cultures back together in a peaceful manner, but in addition to the public projects of sending various artists from world to world, there are also secret operations to overthrow hostile governments, assassinate impediments to re-integration, etc.
        Special Agent Giraut Leones is a musician who has toured many worlds giving public performances, while also being involved in secret operations. After the events in Earth Made of Glass, he swore he would no longer work for the Office of Special Projects. But there is now a new movement on Earth that would have such severe repercussions in the outlying colony worlds that he agrees to try to stop it.
        Most people throughout the colonies make periodic recordings of their memories and personality, so that if something happens to them a clone can be grown and their memories and personality can be put into the clone-in effect, bringing them back to life. The recording technology has been successful for centuries, but the procedure for restoring the personality into a clone has only recently become successful most of the time. So, there are now recordings of around a billion people that have no chance of being brought back to life. People on Earth want to exploit those billion recorded personalities for mass entertainment for the forty two billion bored people in the Solar system, but the people in the colonies would never stand for subjecting their recorded ancestors to that kind of treatment.
        Giraut's brain is currently host to a second consciousness-the mind of his long-dead childhood friend Raimbaut, who is waiting for his clone to be ready for the transfer. Thus, we get to see not only the current decadent culture of Earth, but also flashbacks to the way Giraut and Raimbaut were brought up on their home planet, where the kids are systematically tormented in order to produce the desired artistic temperament, and a large number of teen suicides is viewed as a small price to pay to produce a few brilliant artists.
        The entire series is highly recommended, but I think this one was the best so far. (The author plans two more novels in this universe.)

        As I was reading Golden Fool ($24.95, The Tawny Man, Book 2), I realized two things. First, that Robin Hobb just keeps getting better and better. Second, that I've given a lot of people bad advice about this series.
        About 8 years ago The Farseer Trilogy started coming out, about FitzChivalry Farseer, a young bastard in the royal family of the Six Duchies who becomes an apprentice assassin for the king. Those three books are Assassin's Apprentice ($6.99), Assassin's Quest ($6.99), and Royal Assassin ($6.99). Then the author jumped to another part of the same fantasy world to write The Liveship Traders Trilogy (Ship of Magic ($6.99), Mad Ship ($6.99), and Ship of Destiny ($6.99)), which can be read completely independently of the Farseer Trilogy. Last year, with Fool's Errand ($6.99), she returned to FitzChivalry, 15 years later than we last saw him at the end of the Farseer Trilogy. There were some minor references in Fool's Errand to information from The Liveship Traders Trilogy, but I've been telling people that they don't need to have read The Liveship Traders books before starting the new series. Alas, in the latest book the two earlier trilogies are very firmly tied together, and you'll miss the significance of a lot of things in this book if you haven't read the Liveship books. Please, read all of the Robin Hobb books in order. You'll be glad you did.
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