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Science Fiction Reviews

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Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        I frequently hear customers complaining about how much of the new release shelf is taken up with paranormal romances and urban fantasies (which I agree with regarding paranormal romances) and that there aren’t enough traditional fantasies being published. In fact, there are a lot of wonderful traditional fantasies being published.
        I heard lots of favorable comments about Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson ($27.95 signed hc or $7.99 pb), so I tried it. It’s a delightful traditional fantasy, mainly serious but with humorous bits tossed in. One character frequently has arguments with his surly sentient sword (which thinks the solution to every problem is to let the sword kill a lot of people, since that’s what the sword is so good at); a pair of mercenaries who constantly grumble that mercenaries never get any respect, unlike assassins who always get respect for taking money to kill people; and a witty god who is constantly trying to convince the other gods that he’s the most worthless god of them all. There is also a complex plot involving a conspiracy to start a war against a small nearby country, and an interesting magic system.
        Some customers heard me commenting about how much I enjoyed Warbreaker, and told me that I had to try Sanderson’s first novel, Elantris ($7.99). Elantris is more complex and has less humor than Warbreaker, but also highly recommendable, and has a totally different interesting magical system. It is also a stand-alone novel, although enough loose ends are left at the end to allow a sequel to be written, if Sanderson ever finds the time to do so. Now customers are telling me that I absolutely have to read the trilogy written between Elantris and Warbreaker, consisting of Mistborn ($7.99), The Well of Ascension ($7.99), and The Hero of the Ages ($7.99), and I intend to read them in the near future. And the first book of a new fantasy series is coming from Sanderson in August: The Way of Kings ($27.99). In his spare time, Sanderson is also finishing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

        On day I was looking for another book to begin and Elizabeth suggested that I try Jennifer Fallon. I picked up Medalon ($7.99, first of the Hythrun Chronicles), and I was hooked. Many generations before the story begins, the land of Medalon was purged of the Harshini, a fabled race of magical beings thought to be extinct. Since that time, the land has been ruled with an iron fist by the Sisterhood of the Blade, with the assistance of the Defenders, elite warriors determined to keep Medalon free of any trace of religion. But there is an ancient prophecy of a half-human child known as the Demon Child, born to destroy a god. It turns out that the Demon Child has been born and is living in Medalon. And the Harshini are not extinct, but merely hiding. And the gods are not pleased with Medalon. And Medalon is surrounded by religious countries that are also not pleased with them. I was completely hooked and quickly went through Treason Keep ($7.99) and Harshini ($7.99).
        What I should have done next was read her two other trilogies that were already in print in the U.S., The Wolfblade Trilogy (Wolfblade ($7.99), Warrior ($7.99), and Warlord ($7.99), set in the same world as Medalon) and The Second Sons Trilogy (Lion of Senet ($7.99), Eye of the Labyrinth ($7.50), and Lord of the Shadows ($7.99), set in a different world).
        Instead, I made the mistake of jumping ahead to her newest novel, The Immortal Prince ($7.99), which is the first of The Tide Lords Quartet. It’s very good, but I now face a long wait to be able to complete the series. Thousands of years before the story begins, a group of people were made immortal and in the process acquired, to a different degree from individual to individual, the ability to use the magic of the Tide. But the people who became immortal were not very nice people, and becoming powerful immortals has not improved the situation. The magic of the Tide fluctuates, sometimes becoming very powerful (which allows the Tide Lords to conquer the world and then fight amongst themselves with no regard for how many hundreds of thousands of ordinary humans they kill in the process) and sometimes becoming very weak (leaving the Tide Lords with no power, but still impossible to kill, so they blend in with the ordinary humans and plot for when the Tide comes in again). As the story begins, the Tide has been out so long that the Tide Lords are generally regarded as imaginary legends of the distant past, but there are a few humans who have preserved the knowledge of what really happened in the past and who hope to keep the Tide Lords from seizing power again when the Tide rises. And the Tide is beginning to come in, the Tide Lords are getting ready to seize power in various kingdoms, and the fighting among the Tide Lords is beginning. The second book, The Gods of Amyrantha ($7.99) has just come out in paperback and is also highly recommendable, and the third book, The Palace of Impossible Dreams ($27.99) is coming in June. But it will probably be another year before the final volume is reprinted in the U.S. Given the way the publishing industry works these day, you better grab the early books in the series now, because they may no longer be in print by the time the final book is published.

        I’ve been recommending Jo Graham’s Black Ships ($7.99) for a couple of years. Set shortly after the fall of Troy, the gods get involved in saving some of the former residents of Troy that were taken as slaves by the Greeks. I enjoyed Hand of Isis ($7.99) even more. After Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, Ptolemy reached an agreement with the Egyptian gods: he and his descendants would do everything they could to protect Egypt in exchange for becoming Pharaohs. Almost 3 centuries later, Cleopatra tries to keep Ptolemy’s promise as the Roman Republic turns into the Roman Empire. In addition to the primary story line, there are lots of interesting details added as subplots, including the differences between the Greek, Roman, and Celtic attitudes about homosexuality, the major Jewish presence in Alexandria, and the rise of Herod in Israel. The Egyptian gods don’t win this battle, but the details about the religion are very interesting.

        I’ve enjoyed Patricia Briggs’ books, both the traditional fantasies and the urban fantasies. We currently have signed copies of all of her books that are currently in print. The traditional fantasies include Steal the Dragon ($7.99), When Dragons Walk ($7.99), Hob’s Bargain ($7.99), Dragon Bones ($7.99) and sequel Dragon Blood ($7.99), Raven’s Shadow ($7.99) and sequel Raven’s Strike ($7.99). The missing traditional fantasy, Masques, will finally be put back into print in September. Her first urban fantasy series features Mercy Thompson, a VW mechanic and were-coyote raised by were-wolves, and consists of Moon Called ($19.95 hc or $7.99 pb), Blood Bound ($7.99), Iron Kissed ($7.99), Bone Crossed ($7.99), and Silver Borne ($24.95). She has added the Alpha and Omega series, set in the same world but featuring different main characters, which so far consists of Cry Wolf ($7.99) and Hunting Ground ($7.99). You should read at least a couple of the Mercy Thompson books to get an understanding of the setting and the secondary characters before trying the Alpha and Omega series, but I find that I like the characters and the interactions between the main characters more in the Alpha and Omega series than in the Mercy Thompson series–but I still grabbed the latest Mercy Thompson hardcover and read it within a couple of weeks of it coming into the store.

        Iorich by Steven Brust ($24.99) is the twelfth book in the Vlad Taltos series, and I enjoyed it much more than the previous book. Vlad still has a price on his head, but he hears that his old friend Aliera has been arrested by the Empire on a charge of practicing elder sorcery, a capital crime. Everybody in the upper level of the Empire has known for ages that Aliera practices elder sorcery, but she is now refusing to defend herself and none of her friends are willing to defend her. Vlad heads for the capital to find out what’s going on and save his friend. This puts him at much greater risk of being killed, but it also allows Brust to bring back into the story many characters that we haven’t seen for a few books. Vlad gets very busy, out-smarting the bad guys and out-smarting the good guys, and wise-cracking all the way.

        I’ve read some urban fantasies recently that I didn’t care for. One that I enjoyed was Doppelganster by Laura Resnick ($7.99). Esther Diamond moved to New York City to be an actress, but between acting jobs she works as a singing waitress at a Manhattan mob restaurant because the tips are so good. She also spends time helping her friend Max the Magician (who owns a bookstore) fight Evil. And she’s trying to date an undercover cop who doesn’t like Max and doesn’t believe in the supernatural. When wiseguys start being killed by supernatural means, she and Max try to solve the case, which upsets her cop boyfriend. This is a fun, light-weight beginning of a series.

        The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks ($7.99) is the first of a paranoid thriller trilogy that could also be called either science fiction or fantasy (but is carried at Uncle Hugo’s, regardless of what you call it). For thousands of years, there have been Travelers, people who can cross over to other realities and then often become prophets when they come back to Earth. For most of that time, there has been a secret society of martial arts experts dedicated to protecting Travelers, who for centuries have been called Harlequins. And for a similar period of time there has been a secret society determined to wipe out Travelers and create a rigid society, safe from the changes that Travelers bring when they become prophets, and they have traditionally been called the Tabula. As The Traveler begins, the Tabula have almost won. All of the known Travelers have been killed, as well as most of the Harlequins. The Tabula have been very successful at infiltrating governments, using the threat of terrorism to allow them to build the Vast Machine, the ultimate computerized security system to lock society into the rigid form they want. But when Maya’s father, one of the last of the Harlequins, is murdered by the Tabula, she finally agrees to become a Harlequin (as she has been trained for her entire life to become) and to search for a couple of brothers in California who might have the ability to become Travelers. In the second book, The Dark River ($7.99), one of the brothers works with the Harlequins, while the other brother joins willingly with the Tabula, who have decided that having their own Traveler to control is even better than wiping out all of the Travelers. And one of the other realities is working with the Tabula to construct a super computer, presumably for sinister purposes. I enjoyed the first two books, but haven’t yet read the conclusion, The Golden City ($25.95 hc, $14.95 trade pb coming mid-July).

        Eifelheim by Michael Flynn ($7.99) is a science fiction novel that follows two plots. One plot takes place in the Black Forest starting in 1348, where an alien spaceship malfunctions and crashes near a small German village. Most of the inhabitants of the village think the aliens are demons, although the village priest (much better educated than his position would indicate, but hiding out for political reasons) begins to understand what’s really going on and tries to convert the aliens. The other plot line is in modern times and has a married couple of professors, he in history and she in theoretical physics, who do a wonderful job of talking past each other but seldom actually communicating with each other. By the end of the book, the two story lines are brought together. The book is full of interesting details, portrays first contact between an alien culture and a human culture that is also rather alien to modern human culture, and is quite thought-provoking.
        Elom by William H. Drinkard ($7.99) is far more interesting than I expected from the blurb on the back cover (comparing it to The Clan of the Cave Bear meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind). About 18,000 years ago, aliens came to Earth, took some stone-age tribes to a partially terraformed planet much closer to galactic central, and imposed a culture and a religion on them that was meant to force them to evolve. The first half of the book looks at the culture and introduces the characters that will form a team in the second half of the book to go find out why the aliens took their ancestors from Earth and what the aliens plan to do with them. While the humans have been trying to make it look like they’ve been buying into the culture imposed on them by the aliens, the leadership of the humans have been secretly distrustful of the aliens all along–and the aliens have not been fooled. The first half of the book is full of interesting ideas and character development, while the second half is full of gosh-wow technology of the aliens.

        Mission of Honor by David Weber ($27.00, due early August) seems to be the only military sf I’ve read in the last couple of months. You must read Storm from the Shadows ($8.99) before reading Mission of Honor to have any idea what is going on. The Solarian League launches full-out war against the Star Empire of Manticore, and the governments of Manticore and Haven both finally figure out who has been fooling them into going to war against each other repeatedly. But the Solarian League is nowhere near smart enough to figure out who has been playing them for fools. Of course, if you’ve been following the series, you knew all of this was coming, but it’s still fun to watch the story unfold. And some surprises are also thrown in.

This document last modified May 15, 2010

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