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Newsletter #85 March May, 2009

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

The Accidental Sorcerer by K. E. Mills ($7.99) is the first of a humorous fantasy trilogy, and I enjoyed it a great deal.
        Gerald Dunwoody, son of a tailor, is a third grade wizard who accepted a job as an inspector for the Department of Thaumaturgy. When he inspects the factory of the premier magical staff manufacturer, something goes terribly wrong. The highly connected owner of the factory manages to push the blame onto Gerald and gets him fired. His only chance to get a new job is to become the new Court Wizard for King Lional (who can’t seem to hold onto a Court Wizard very long before they quit), on the other side of the planet. Now Gerald is really out of his depth.
        Craig Shaw Gardner wrote a bunch of light, humorous fantasies in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the flavor of this series reminds me of Gardner’s style, although not quite as fluffy as Gardner.

        Storm From the Shadows by David Weber ($27.00, due early March) is the latest in the Honor Harrington universe, but with Honor only appearing in a few scenes. The author mentions in his introduction that the next two books in the series have already been turned in and are working their way through the publication pipeline.
        If you’ve been reading the series, you know you need to read this book to understand what’s happened by the time the next book arrives that features Honor as the primary character. The primary characters in this novel are interesting, the action pulls the reader along, the plot advances. Sometimes it seemed like I was reading a futuristic weapons manual instead of a novel, but then the action would pick up again. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

        Horizon by Lois McMaster Bujold ($26.99) is the fourth volume of The Sharing Knife fantasy series, and is the end of the series, at least for now.
        I always have a problem with Lois’ books: I tell myself that I’ll read in bed for 15 minutes and then turn out the light; hours later my eyes refuse to work any more and then I turn out the light. It happened again with Horizon.
        In Passage, the third volume, Dag the magic-fighting Lakewalker and Fawn the farmer’s daughter travel by river to the sea with a mixed band of Lakewalkers and farmers, having various adventures along the way. In Horizon, the band breaks up, with most of them planning to meet up again after they make their individual ways back to the north. Dag continues with his magical experimentation. Fawn schemes to get him apprenticed to the best Lakewalker medical teacher in the south. The two Lakewalkers that joined the band on the trip south decide to tag along because they’re interested in a couple of the female patrollers from the same camp as the medical teacher. The rest of the band head north on their own. When Dag, Fawn, and the rest of the gang finally head north, they encounter a malice more powerful than any that has ever been seen before. The story ends at a good stopping point, but there are plenty of opportunities to expand this universe.
        I’m usually reading two books at once: a mass market paperback that I can slip into my jacket pocket and read while standing in line at the post office, at the bank, while waiting for lunch, etc., and a hardcover or advance reading copy next to the bed at home. I usually try to make sure the two books are very different so that the two plot lines don’t get confused in my mind, which often means one sf and one fantasy novel. But I recently found myself reading two novels that had many ideas in common, but the story lines were different enough that I could enjoy both without confusion.
        Halting State by Charles Stross ($7.99) is set in 2018 Edinburgh. When a daring (and supposedly impossible) bank robbery takes place within a computer game run by a dot-com start-up company, the marketing manager panics and calls in the police. Sgt. Sue Smith responds, but has no idea what to do–she’s used to dealing with domestic disturbances, drunks, and small-time crooks. Was the robbery pulled off by hacking gamers, and if so was the crime even committed in Scotland? Or was the robbery an attempt to manipulate the stock of the dot-com company? Or was it the beginning of an international computer terrorism plot? Soon Sue is joined in the investigation by Elaine (a forensic accountant) and Jack (a game designer hired to be a native guide for Elaine to the world of computer gaming)–each of whom tells pieces of the story from their own point of view, with Sue throwing in lots of Scottish police slang, Elaine throwing in some business slang, and Jack throwing in lots of gaming slang. The story not only deals with computer gaming, but also live-action role-playing, with some players finding it difficult to tell the difference between the role-playing world and the real world. In spite of the heavy doses of slang without explanations, the book is very entertaining. Jack starts out viewing Elaine as a librarian on crystal meth, but eventually comes to think of her (admiringly) as a ferret. And then there’s the scene with the Cthulhu beany-babies.
        This Is Not a Game by Walter Jon Williams ($24.99, due late March) is also a near-future novel that involves live-action role-playing, with some players not being able to tell the difference between the role-playing world and the real-world. But the story is told from the point of view of a single character and without such a huge dose of unexplained slang, making it easier to follow the plot. When one of the world’s top live-action game designers realizes that the term “This is not a game” doesn’t work for some of the more extreme fans of her games, she starts to use their obsession with her games to get them to do research for her, including tracking down the hitman who killed one of her best friends. While I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as Halting State, I suspect that most members of the general public would find this novel much easier to follow.

        Fool by Christopher Moore ($26.99) is the story of King Lear, as told by Lear’s fool. The advance reading copy came in a plain brown wrapper marked:


WARNING!
THIS IS A BAWDY TALE.

Herein YOU WILL FIND GRATUITOUS SHAGGING, MURDER, SPANKING, MAIMING, TREASON, and heretofore UNEXPLORED HEIGHTS OF VULGARITY and PROFANITY, as well as NON-TRADITIONAL GRAMMAR, SPLIT INFINITIVES, and THE ODD WANK. If that sort of thing bothers you, then gentle reader pass by, for we endeavor only to entertain, not to offend.
        That’s a fair warning. This book is VERY bawdy and VERY funny. Many times while reading it, I had tears running down my face from laughing so hard. It also has helpful footnotes, such as the one that defines “sirrah” as “dude” and the one the refers to a woman’s decolletage as “the road to Hooterville”. Religious scholars will no doubt be interested in St. Cinnamon, who surpassed St. Patrick by driving all the Mazdas out of Swinden, and the discussion of the conflict between the Retail Pope and the Discount Pope is wonderful. I highly recommend this book to adults who are not easily offended.
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