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Newsletter #94 June August, 2011

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        I enjoyed Elizabeth Bear’s generation ship trilogy -- consisting of Dust ($7.99), Chill ($7.99), and Grail ($7.99) -- so much that I next picked up her stand-alone science fiction novel Undertow ($6.99), where coincidence engineers (who can manipulate probability) have allowed humans to rapidly spread to many other star systems. Most of the story takes place on a frontier planet with an enslaved native race (froggies), and the our primary hero is a hired assassin. Lots of action to move the story along, but also some fresh and interesting ideas.

        I’ve enjoyed all of Gail Carriger’s Alexia Tarabotti novels and am eagerly looking forward to the fourth novel. Soulless ($7.99), Changeless ($7.99), and Blameless ($7.99) take place in a Victorian England where vampires and werewolves have been accepted by the government since the time of Henry VIII, and the sneakiness of the vampires and the military prowess of the werewolves have played a major role in the success of the British Empire. Alexia is a woman who is far too smart and far too outspoken and far too Italian- looking (thanks to her father) to fit in comfortably with the Victorian idea of how an upper-class (thanks to her mother and step-father) woman should behave. Many of the scenes poking fun at Victorian ideas of proper behavior are laugh out loud funny. Alexia’s behavior also is strange by vampire and werewolf ideas of proper behavior, which is aggravated by the fact that Alexia is one of the very rare “soulless” humans, who can temporarily turn vampires and werewolves into ordinary humans just by touching them.

        A Taint in the Blood by S. M. Stirling ($9.99) is the first of a new urban fantasy series. Since I’ve enjoyed everything else by Stirling that I’ve read, I decided to try it. It’s a contemporary vampire novel, with some interesting new twists. It’s a very good vampire novel, if that’s what you’re looking for. But I’ve enjoyed everything else I’ve read by Stirling more than this, because I wasn’t looking for yet another vampire novel.

        The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss ($29.95, with unsigned first printings and signed fourth printings currently available) is the sequel to the award-winning The Name of the Wind ($28.95 hardcover or $8.99 pb). I decided to read the sequel without re-reading the first volume, knowing that I could run into problems since only 1 day had passed for the characters in the book while 4 years had passed for me. There was little reason for the characters to remind each other of what had happened the day before, in order to remind the readers of what they had read 4 years before. But it didn’t prove to be a problem.
        In this fantasy series, there are strange events happening in the present, but most of the story takes place in the past, as Kvothe tells the story of how he learned magic and eventually got to the present, where he’s hiding out as an innkeeper in a small town. In The Wise Man’s Fear there is even more emphasis on the historical part of the story, as Kvothe continues to study magic at the University and then takes a break to see more of the world before returning to the University. Very little of significance happens in the present, until the end of the book, where there are some strange twists that I hope I can still remember whenever the next volume comes out. If you liked the first volume (as at least 95% of the readers do), you will be very pleased with the second volume–until after almost 1000 pages of wonderful reading, you will wonder how long you’ll have to wait for the next volume.

        I’ve been hearing great things about Joe Abercrombie for a few years, so I picked up Best Served Cold ($7.99) and found it grim but wonderful. Set in a fantasy land similar to Renaissance Italy, with lots of independent city-states trying to conquer each other, often using mercenary armies, there is actually very little fantasy in the book. But there’s lots of devious plotting and killing by a fine batch of scoundrels, all of whom are convinced that they are completely justified in the actions they are taking to achieve their goals (which usually includes getting filthy rich at somebody else’s expense).
        While Best Served Cold is a stand alone novel, there are some references to events and characters from far to the north, and those events are told in The Blade Itself ($15.98), Before They Are Hanged ($15.98), and Last Argument of Kings ($15.98). I haven’t read those yet, but I’ve heard that they are just as good and I’m looking forward to reading them.
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