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Newsletter #63 September - November, 2003

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        When The Curse of Chalion ($7.99 pb or $25.00 1st edition hc) by Lois McMaster Bujold came out a couple of years ago, I read it and enjoyed it, but found it strange that Lois did not show her sense of humor until the last couple of chapters of the book, after all the bad guys have been dealt with.
        In the sequel, Paladin of Souls ($24.95, due in early October), Lois lets her sense of humor show very early, and the book is delightful.
        The story begins three years after the end of The Curse of Chalion, as Ista, the Dowager Royina of Chalion, leaves the funeral for her iron-willed mother. With her father, mother, husband and son all dead, and her married daughter away at the royal court, she is trapped in the castle at Valenda with her mother's old cronies, who all think that they should now run her life for her now that her mother has died. "Her lady attendant sat near her, poking at a piece of embroidery with a needle as narrow as, though rather sharper than, her mind." Ista decides she has to escape.
        When her first attempt to escape fails, she hits on the idea of a religious pilgrimage and out-maneuvers her keepers. With a small band, she sets out to explore Chalion and stay away from Valenda as long as possible. But one of the Gods has a mission for her, and things quickly become more dangerous than anybody could have expected.
        While there's plenty of action and adventure in this novel, it is also a Coming-of-Age-in-Middle-Age novel, as Ista for the first time in her life discovers freedom, forms true friendships with her traveling companions, and by the end of the book finds romance for the first time (her marriage having been arranged for her when she was in her teens). I enjoyed the sequel more than the first novel.

        Hell's Faire ($25.00) is the fourth in John Ringo's series that began with A Hymn Before Battle ($7.99) and continued with Gust Front ($7.99) and When the Devil Dances ($7.99). This novel ties up (rather abruptly near the end of the book) the story of the invasion of Earth by the ravening Posleen hordes. In his afterword, the author says he's going to go away and work on other projects for a few years before he returns to this universe.
        People who have been following the series know that the series has been around 95% about the good guys (the humans) blasted away at the openly bad guys (the Posleen) and around 5% about the sneaky, double-crossing allies of the humans. While the "blast the bad guys" parts have been great fun, I've been frustrated by how little has been revealed about the true motives of the various other alien races. Ringo says he'll deal with the sneaky allies whenever he comes back to this universe, and I'll be eagerly waiting.

        The Service of the Sword ($26.00) is the fourth collection of short stories set in the universe of Honor Harrington. I've read and enjoyed all of the collections, but for some reason I enjoyed this less than the earlier volumes. I enjoyed all of the stories in this collection, especially the John Ringo stories, but I felt that all of the earlier collections expanded my understanding of the Honor universe, while this collection was merely a collection of good stories set against a familiar background.

        I've read about 2/3 of Walter Jon William's science fiction novels, and I've enjoyed all of them I've read, although he's written in many different styles. I was delighted to receive an advance copy of Dread Empire's Fall: The Praxis ($7.50, due around the beginning of September), which is the first of a new space opera series.
        The Shaa were an alien race that made themselves immortal (which they later decided was a big mistake) and then developed the Praxis, a complex philosophy to govern the life of all intelligent beings. The Shaa then set out to conquer the galaxy and force all the races they conquered to live by the Praxis. They set up a rigid structure of aristocracy within each race that they conquered, so that being born into the right families with the right connections counted for much more than competence. The novel begins in the Year 12.481 of the Peace of the Praxis, and the last of the Shaa has become bored with life and decided to commit ritual suicide, trusting that the obvious truth of Praxis will keep the empire going forever. Most of those at the top of the aristocracy share that belief, but others have plans for change.
        The military is large, powerful, promotes primarily on the basis of family connections, and has not fought a war in thousands of years. When trouble begins, most of the military is ill-prepared. While there is plenty of military action-adventure, there is also a fair amount of comedy-of-manners humor when viewing the aristocracy, and it's easy to see how the naval ships could become obsessed with sports, with no enemy to defeat militarily.
        I'm looking forward to the next volume, coming next April.

        Jennifer Government ($19.95) is a near-future cross-over novel by Australian Max Barry. Jeff had been recommending it to Uncle Edgar's customers for a couple of months before I got around to reading it. I can now also recommend it.
        The U.S. Federated Economic Bloc has taken over about 2/3 of the world, making things safer for huge multi-national corporations. The corporations have pushed through an agenda for extremely free markets--which means that the corporations can get away with almost anything. There are no longer any taxes, so the government is no longer willing to investigate crimes except in those cases where the victims (or next of kin) agree in advance to pay for the investigation. When somebody is hired by a corporation, they change their name to that of the corporation.
        John Nike, Guerrilla Marketing Vice-President, New Products, has come up with a great plan to generate demand for Nike Mercury sneakers, which sell for thousands of dollars per pair. He'll arrange for about a dozen kids to be killed in various malls right after they've bought a pair of Mercuries, thus proving how hot the sneakers are. But he needs a fall-guy in case the hits are traced back to Nike. He gets Hack Nike, a naive Merchandising Division worker, to sign a contract without reading it, that requires Hack to do the killing. When Hack figures out what has happened, he goes to the police with his story. The police think he's trying to hire them to make the hits, and assures him that he's made a wise decision, because only if he hires the police to commit the crime will they guarantee that the crime will never be solved. Hack suddenly realizes that the world is a lot stranger than he had ever imagined, and agrees to the deal. But after he leaves, the police subcontract the hits to the NRA.
        Jennifer Government is a federal agent who becomes involved, and is determined to solve the case even if the parents of the murdered teens can't afford the cost of the investigation, and the action and strangeness continues to spiral higher and higher. I found this book very hard to put down.

        Most publishers look for new writers, though some do it more seriously than others, and some are more successful at developing and marketing new writers. Roc has been very successful at finding, developing, and marketing new authors. Among the new authors Roc has published that have been recommended here are Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files series), Mindy Klasky (The Glasswright series), Lyda Morehouse (Archangel Protocol and the 2 sequels), and Wen Spencer (Alien Taste and the 2 sequels).
        When Roc published Belarus by Lee Hogan ($6.99) early in 2002, I didn't hear many comments about it. But when they published the sequel, Enemies ($6.99) a few months ago, I started hearing that it was pretty good, but not as outstanding as the first book. I quickly grabbed a copy of Belarus, and I agree that it is an outstanding first novel.
        At the beginning of the novel, humans have been spreading across about a quarter of the galaxy for over 19,000 years, and they've encountered a few alien races along the way, though none have been openly hostile to the humans. The Republic is set up with a group of rich families controlling most of the wealth, and things can get pretty vicious as members of a family try to kill off other members of the same extended family in order to increase their share of the family wealth.
        Andrei Mironenko has survived several assassination attempts from relatives, but he also sees that the entire structure of the Republic is about to unravel. He's decided to colonize a planet on the fringe of the Republic, saving the cultural elements that he values most (which are primarily Russian), and hope that his colony can survive the collapse of the Republic. There are some strange, heavily damaged, alien artifacts in the star system he decides to colonize, but no sign of any surviving aliens (because they are so well hidden on the planet he is going to colonize).
        As Andrei and his team of ESAs (Enhanced Special Agents, humans that have been augmented with alien technology), sprites (a form of nano-tech, also supplied by friendly aliens) and world engineers work to build a new Russia on the planet Belarus, they encounter problems. There is a double-agent on the team, who in his spare time is also a psycho child killer--providing a police procedural element to the novel. The hidden aliens (believing that cruelty is the highest art form) have begun harvesting humans. And the violence level in the Republic is escalating from the standard micro-wars (where family members use a few nukes on each other's planets, killing a few million of each other's colonists, until a new division of the family wealth is achieved) to an all-out war that will completely destroy many planets and shatter the Republic. But Andrei gets some cryptic help from Baba Yaga, an immortal non-human who has been watching and giving occasional help to humans since before Russia even existed, guiding them towards some future that only she can foresee.
        Belarus tells a complete story in one book. The sequel, Enemies, jumps forward in time about 1000 years, thus killing off all of the completely human characters from Belarus (not that being dead will stop some of the characters from making an appearance). The remnants of the Republic have fixed many of the problems that plagued the Republic, and have formed the Union. The Union has been searching for lost colony worlds, and has finally found Belarus. Readers of Belarus (but not the characters in the book) quickly figured out that the aliens on the planet are a small, defeated clan hiding out from the stronger clans that almost wiped them out. By the time Enemies takes place, the stronger alien clans have started moving into human space, with bad results for the humans. The Union hopes that the humans on Belarus, after 1000 years of war with the local batch of aliens, will have information to aid in the big war, but the Union doesn't want to reveal too much to the Belarus government. Meanwhile, the local government is in upheaval and is deeply distrustful of outsiders. And the local batch of nasty aliens are up to something.
        I enjoyed Enemies almost as much as Belarus, but it does not tell a complete story. So I'm impatiently waiting for the next installment, hopefully sometime next year.

        Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett ($24.95, due early October)is the latest in the Discworld series (which the packaging of the advance reading copy conceals- hopefully the trade edition of the book will reveal this vital fact).
        There are many strange, small countries in the mountains of Discworld, and one of the strangest is Borogravia. It is constantly fighting wars with its neighbors. It is ruled by an old Duchess that nobody has seen for decades, and most people assume is dead, but everybody prays to her anyway. And they have a very active, but quite mad god, Nuggan, who is constantly updating the Book of Nuggan (a ring-binder so that you can keep putting in fresh sheets of paper to be filled miraculously with new messages from Nuggan), mainly with new Abominations. Among his more recent Abominations are chocolate, cats, and the color blue (so devout Nugganites now have to try to avoid looking at the sky). Borogravia is engaged in its annual war with it's neighbor Zlobenia.
        Lord Vetinari of Ankh-Morpork has gotten fed up with Borogravia, and has sent Commander Samuel Vimes to straighten things out (to Ankh-Morpork's benefit, of course). At first it appears that the best solution would be to help Zlobenia defeat Borogravia and replace the presumably deceased duchess with Prince Heinrich of Zlobenia (who is her closest blood relative, anyway). But Vimes quickly realizes that an ambitious Prince Heinrich ruling both countries would be a larger threat to Ankh-Morpork's interests than the current situation. So he has to find some way to arrange for the bizarre, understrength Borogravian to defeat his "ally", Prince Heinrich.
        The constant series of wars has left Borogravia rather short of young men to enlist in the army. But Polly's brother (very strong but not very bright) enlisted in the army a while back, but hasn't been heard from recently. Polly decides to cut her hair, put on male clothes (another Abomination to Nuggan), join the army and go rescue her brother. She gradually discovers that she's far from the only female to pass herself off as a male and join the army. And she becomes a key part of Vimes' scheme to defeat Prince Heinrich.
        One of the joys of Discworld books is the humor, which is generally pretty evenly spread throughout the book. In this book, there were a fair number of chuckles in the first 80% of the book, followed by a heavy concentration of zingers in the last 20% of the book.

        The Elder Gods by David & Leigh Eddings ($25.95, due mid-October) is the first volume of their first new fantasy series in ten years.
        The Land of Dhrall is a continent with four eccentric gods who each oversaw one side of the continent. But in the center of the continent is a vast wasteland ruled by a mysterious, voracious horror known as That-Called-The-Vlagh, which has created a massive army of hideous monsters in a plan to conquer first the Land of Dhrall and eventually the whole world. The gods are powerful, but they can't use their powers to kill. But there is a prophecy of four children, who will be able to dream so powerfully that they can change reality, bringing death to the monsters of Vlagh.
        When the four gods believe that Vlagh is preparing to attack, the eldest god finds the four children. Two of the gods then go to the world beyond Dhrall to recruit armies to help defend against Vlagh's forces. This novel sets all the background into place, and covers Vlagh's war against the first of the four gods.
        The story is fast-paced, smoothly-told with a gentle sense of humor. It works quite well as a novel for adults (with all but one of the main characters being adults), but also works well as a young adult novel (with one of the main characters being one of the young dreamers, and no "objectionable" language or material). I went through the 404 page novel in a day and a half, and I'm eagerly looking forward to the next installment.
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