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Newsletter #78 June August, 2007

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        Sharing by Lois McMaster Bujold ($25.95, June 26 release date and signing at Uncle Hugo’s) is the second volume of The Sharing Knife series, which is now scheduled to be four books.
        In Beguilement ($7.99 pb or $25.95 signed hc), young farm girl Dawn meets and eventually travels with Dag, a seasoned Lakewalker soldier who travels the land fighting magical evil. In Sharing, Dawn and Dag try to settle in his tribe’s Hickory Lake Camp, but prejudice and pre-existing conflict within the tribe makes life difficult for them. The first half of the book is interesting but a little slow. When Dag has to rush off to fight evil and leaves Dawn behind, she shows that she has abilities beyond what anybody expected, and the action really picks up. There’s an interesting twist at the end that makes me look forward to the next volume.

        A decade ago Matt Ruff put out a wonderful book, Sewer, Gas and Electric (now out-of-print, but we often have used copies). In the past decade he put out 2 more novels, which I’ve heard a lot of good comments about but haven’t read. When an advance reading copy of Bad Monkeys ($23.95, due early August) arrived, I was happy to read it.


        Jane Charlotte turns herself into the police for murder. She says she’s a member of a secret organization that fights evil, and her division is The Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons, of “Bad Monkeys” for short. She was assigned to kill a Bad Monkey, but instead killed the wrong person, so she felt she had to turn herself in to the police. She’s sent to the jail’s psychiatric wing, where a doctor tries to figure out if she’s lying, crazy, or if something even stranger is going on. The story moves along quickly, lots of interesting ideas are toss out, but somehow the novel just never grabbed me the way Sewer, Gas and Electric did.

        I had surgery in February, so I grabbed a pile of older paperbacks.
        Holly Lisle wrote a bunch of light, humorous fantasies for Baen quite a few years ago, all of which I enjoyed. Then she did some less fluffy novels for Warner, and I enjoyed 3 out of 4 of those. She then did a darker fantasy series for Avon, and I enjoyed all of them. She then did a mystery novel and a horror novel that I did not read.
        Her latest fantasy is Talyn ($7.99), and it is more ambitious than her earlier fantasies, and she handles it very well. Most of a continent is split between two countries that have been at war with each other for centuries, using swords and magic to maintain a balance of power. When a much smaller country offers to negotiate a peace and to bring in peacekeepers to oversee the dismantling of both armies, nobody expects it to work. But somehow the diplomats talk both sides into the peace plan, the dismantling of both armies is completed, and slowly a few people on both sides realize that both countries have been quietly conquered by a very evil magic used by the diplomats.


        I’d been hearing good comments about the Retrieval Artist novels by Kristine Kathryn Rusch for several years, but they looked like “cops on the moon” books and I kept passing them up. I finally picked up The Disappeared (#1) and found it much more interesting than I had expected. Earth has entered into treaties with around 50 other intelligent races, under which any human who commits what is a crime in an area controlled by an alien race has to be turned over to that race for the punishment set out by that race’s criminal code. Often, humans commit “crimes” without realizing it, and then find themselves subject to horrifying sentences. This leads to a major industry of helping people “disappear”, complete with new names, backgrounds, locations, etc., to avoid being turned over to alien races. The cops are supposed to help track down the human “criminals” and turn them over for the alien punishments. In the first book, a tough experienced detective out-of-favor with her superiors is teamed up with a smart, idealist young detective, and they have to deal with a number of gut-wrenching cases involving alien justice. By the end of the book, the young detective decides to leave the police department and become a Retrieval Artist, who helps the disappeared. Later books in the series involve the Retrieval Artist and the cops working various sides of the same cases. Unfortunately, the publisher recently put the first 4 books in the series out-of-print, and they rarely come in used.
        Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross ($7.99) is a hard sf/mystery crossover that works very well. The star that the planet Moscow orbits suddenly went nova, the result of a previously unknown weapon. In the moments before they die, defense forces in the outer fringe of the system launch an automated retaliation attack on the planet they think most likely to have been behind the nova weapon. They guessed wrong. Only a few Moscow diplomats know the code to stop the automated attack, and somebody is systematically killing off everybody who knows the code. Rachel Mansour, agent for the interests of Old Earth, is assigned to find out who was behind the initial attack and stop the automated retaliation.


        The Family Trade by Charles Stross ($6.99) is the first of The Merchant Princes series which is a finalist for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. Miriam Beckstein was a successful reporter who uncovered evidence of a huge money-laundering scheme, but when she took the story to her editor, she was fired on the spot and soon received a death threat from the criminals she’d almost exposed. She visits her adoptive mother to discuss things, and is given a locket that had belonged to her biological mother, a Jane Doe who was murdered when Miriam was an infant. The locket allows Miriam to travel to a parallel Earth where knights on horseback use automatic weapons. The other world is run by her true family, and she soon learns that she may be in more danger from members of her extended clan than she is from the criminals back on our Earth.

        Old Man’s War by John Scalzi ($6.99) is the first of a trilogy. When humans got to the stars, they found lots of intelligent races looking for good worlds to colonize and few worlds worth colonizing. And when some of the early human explorers returned to Earth, they brought a plague that resulting in Earth forbidding anybody from returning to Earth after leaving the planet. The Colonial Defense Forces now run the colonization effort, borrowing or stealing technology from the various alien races, and maintaining a huge military for the constant conflicts with aliens. There are two ways to leave Earth: be born poor in a crowded third world country and become a colonist, or be born in a developed country and wait until you’re 75 years old and volunteer to become a soldier for the CDF. Everybody on Earth assumes that the CDF must have alien technology that makes it worthwhile to have 75-year-olds as their military force, but nobody on Earth knows any details. Old Man’s War follows John Perry as he goes from retirement on Earth to the front lines among the stars. The second book, The Ghost Brigades ($7.99), looks at the human (at least sort of) special forces. The third book, The Last Colony ($23.95), arrived a few weeks ago. We have some signed copies of all three books.
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