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Newsletter #96 December, 2011 February, 2012

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        I’ve enjoyed all of Larry Correia’s books, which tend to be full of action and humor. I didn’t know what to expect of Dead Six ($7.99), co-written by Larry Correia and Mike Kupari. It’s labeled “Military Fiction” on the spine, and it’s the first novel that either author has co-written.
        It’s set in the near future, after the drug wars in Mexico caused the U.N. to send in peacekeeping forces and after a civil war breaks out in China between hard-core communists in the north and hard-core capitalists of the south. The story is told from the point of view of two characters. Michael Valentine, a veteran and former member of an elite private military company, is hired for what appears to be a top secret U.S. government black ops mission (named Dead Six) targeting terrorists in the small Persian Gulf state of Zubara. When he’s hired for the mission, somebody jokes that if you die, you don’t get paid the very high salary that is being offered. As the mission progresses, he notices that the dangerous assignments seem to be planned to kill off team members as well as terrorists. Lorenzo is an assassin and thief extraordinaire, who used to prey on law-abiding victims, but now feels much better preying on gun runners, terrorists, and other people who won’t run to the police after being robbed. Lorenzo and his team are being blackmailed by a deadly international criminal to infiltrate the terrorist organization in Zubara and pull off an impossible heist or else their family members will be killed. At first, Michael and Lorenzo are unaware of each other, but as each team performs their missions, they keep screwing up the plans of the other team.
        The book is full of action and has some humor. The co-writing worked well. Although most of the loose ends are wrapped up by the end of the book, a sequel is planned, and I look forward to reading it.

        Cold Magic by Kate Elliot ($7.99) is the first of a trilogy, and is an alternate history fantasy that throws in almost everything but the kitchen sink, but still manages to work very well. The Romans failed to defeat Carthage, leaving the Phoenicians in control of the seas and a weaker Roman Empire on land. About 1000 years before the story begins (in the 1800's, dated from Augustus coming to power in Rome), the Roman Empire pretty much collapsed, but not before having a heavy impact on the cultures of western Europe. About 400 years before the story begins, the Persians conquered Northern Africa, causing many of the Phoenicians to flee to Europe and form alliances with the Celtic princes. About 100 years later, an outbreak of ghouls south of the Sahara destroyed the west African empire of Mali, with many of the Mali elite hiring Phoenician ships to take them, their gold, and their magic to Europe, where they marry into the families of the Celtic princes. Some of the Mali hired Phoenicians to take them to South America and eventually to North America, where they met the “trolls”, intelligent descendants of the dinosaurs who are slightly more technologically advanced than the humans and very interested in trade with the humans (or “rats” as they like to call the humans). And then there is the new Ice Age, which has lowered the sea level enough to connect England to France. And the cold mages are the most powerful of several different kinds of magic users. Throw in people (and others) passing back and forth between our world and the spirit world, plus the Wild Hunt, plus too many other things to mention, and you have a very interesting background for the story.
        Catherine (“Cat”) is an orphan approaching her 20th birthday, living with a Phoenician family of modest means that she believes to be her aunt and uncle and various cousins, including Beatrice, who is a couple of months younger and her best friend. When Cat is suddenly forced against her will to marry a cold mage, she starts to learn that much of what she thought she knew is wrong. There’s a little too much breathless romance thrown into the story for my taste, but not enough to keep me from enjoying the book very much. The second of the trilogy, Cold Fire ($14.99), came out in September, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. The concluding volume will probably be out next fall.

        Snuff by Terry Pratchett ($25.99) is officially Discworld novel #33, but it’s actually around the 40th if you include the young adult ones, and it is very good. Sam Vimes, the commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, is forced by his wife and Lord Vetinari to take a vacation in the country. He starts out very unhappy about being on vacation, but he finds crime (including murder) in the country and is soon happily back at work chasing down criminals while on vacation, uttering pithy remarks about law, order, chaos, how coppers should behave, and his opinions of various items of food as he goes along.
        But what does “happy as a cat full of sixpences” really mean?

        After Connie Willis won both the Nebula and the Hugo Awards for best novel of the year, I picked up one of her older novels, Passage ($7.99, 2001). It is correctly labeled “Fiction” rather than “Science Fiction”. At a Colorado hospital there are 3 people researching near-death experiences. Maurice Mandrake is a best-selling author who doesn’t care about science, and tries to get patients to tell him what he wants to hear for his next best-selling book on near-death experiences. Almost everybody in the hospital detests him, but he donated so much money from his previous best-seller that he can get away with almost anything. Dr. Joanna Lander is a psychologist doing serious scientific research into near-death experiences, and Dr. Richard Wright is a neurologist who has just begun a study trying to duplicate near-death experiences using psychoactive drugs. Joanna starts helping Richard with his research project, and eventually allows herself to be a research subject in his study because of problems with his other research subjects. The book is full of interesting characters (especially Maisie, a very bright young girl with a serious heart condition and a mother in complete denial about how serious Maisie’s condition really is) and interesting side-stories. The pacing is slower than most of the books I normally read because of all the subplots, but it was well worth reading.
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