SF/Fantasy Reviews, November 15, 2011

In this Article
Debut of the Month
Mass Market Paperbacks of Note

The many faces of sf show themselves in this month’s titles. From the science-based fiction of Jack McDevitt (Firebird) and Mickey Zucker Reichert (I, Robot: To Protect) to large-scale environmental tales that include Stephen Baxter’s prehistoric series opener Stone Spring as well as Harry Turtledove’s timely Supervolcano: Eruption, the variations on the theme of what is possible? provide food for thought and entertainment. Fiction derived from online and video games is represented in Tony Gonzalez’s EVE: Templar One and William Dietz’s Mass Effect: Deception. Space opera and military sf fans can relate to James Luceno’s Star Wars¬Æ: Darth Plagueis and R.M. Meluch’s The Ninth Circle.

Fantasy makes an appearance through a pairof urban fantasies by Tanya Huff (The Wild Ways) and R.A. MacAvoy (Death and Resurrection). A trio of anthologies celebrates alien contact, zombie literature, and Lovecraftian horror. The debut of the month, Rod Rees’s The Demi-Monde: Winter, features a complex blend of gaming fiction and alternate history and launches a promising new series. Rounding out the column are a trio of paperback titles that spoof aliens, take us to the border of the real world, and embellish the background of a popular video game. As the Thanksgiving season approaches, we can all be thankful for imaginative literature.

GOODBYE TO A VISIONARY

In October 5, Apple CEO Steve Jobs died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. While not an author of sf, Jobs advanced our communications and entertainment technology at an unbelievable speed. The devices first brought to our awareness through cyberpunk fiction have materialized or are on the edge of production thanks to the vision and determination of Jobs and his contemporaries. Those of us who stream videos, download music, use a touch-screen computer, or connect to the wireless network can give silent thanks to one of technology’s guiding lights.


CHECK THESE OUT

Baxter, Stephen. Stone Spring. ROC: NAL. (Northland Trilogy, Bk. 1). Nov. 2011. c.512p. ISBN 9780451464187. $25.95. SF
During the Mesolithic era (10,000 B.C.E. to 4000 B.C.E.), a vast plain connected the British Isles to the European continent until melting ice flooded this land mass. Baxter’s (Flood; Ark) latest novel reimagines what life might have been like for the hunter-gatherers confronted with a changing landscape. Ana, a girl from the Northland settlement of Etxelur, meets a wanderer named Novu from the distant walled city of Jericho. The visionary Ana recognizes that a wall to keep out the rising seas could save her village and allow it to prosper. Thus begins a massive building project that requires a lifelong commitment from the villagers, most of whom will not live to see its completion. VERDICT Baxter proves to be not only a gifted storyteller but also a master of speculative fiction, bringing together ancient civilization with present ecological uncertainties to tell an epic tale not unlike Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth. His series debut should appeal to fans of Jean Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear.

Gonzales, Tony. EVE: Templar One. Tor. Dec. 2011. c.464p. ISBN 9780765326201. $24.99; pap. ISBN 9780765326195. $14.95. SF
As a brutal war rages in the Genesis region of the Eve Constellation, the New Eden system of worlds has become the battleground where galactic governments jockey for political and economic power. Vince Barabin, an ex-prisoner of the Amarr Empire, now serves the Empress as Templar One, an immortal soldier committed to protecting the Imperial way of life. But the Empire has embarked on a clandestine program tied to secrets locked in the past that could change the course of the war, and Templar One is the key. VERDICT Setting the stage for the launch of CCP Games’s Dust 514 expansion of its popular multiplayer EVE¬Æ Online game phenomenon, Gonzales’s (EVE: The Empyrean Age) latest novel is heavily weighted toward fast-paced military action, but the characters are nevertheless well developed. Strong storytelling makes this an informative and entertaining choice for fans of the game and for military sf readers in general.

Huff, Tanya. The Wild Ways. DAW, dist. by Penguin. Nov. 2011. c.368p. ISBN 9780756406868. $24.95. FANTASY
Charlotte Charlie Gale is a Celtic musician living with her extended family in Calgary. As an inheritor of the Gale women’s Wild Magic, she possesses talents more powerful and less controllable than those of her Aunties. In a bid to win offshore drilling rights, an oil company hires Auntie Catherine to steal the sealskins belonging to a family of selkies in Nova Scotia. Now Charlie must face off with the one family member with powers equal to, and older than, her own. Huff (Blood series) is one of the pioneers‚ along with Charles de Lint‚ of urban fantasy, bringing an earthy wholesomeness that elevates the genre above the steamy eroticism so common to other series. VERDICT Combining Celtic folklore, musical references, and a love of nature and magic, this sequel to The Enchantment Emporium will appeal to Huff’s many fans and to readers who like their urban fantasy with more depth and character development.

Luceno, James. Star Wars ® : Darth Plagueis. Del Rey: Ballantine. Jan. 2012. c.416p. ISBN 9780345511287. $27. SF
In the film Star Wars ¬Æ Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, the Emperor Palpatine tells disillusioned Jedi Anakin Skywalker the story of the legendary Sith Lord, Darth Plagueis, who sought to master the Force to control the power over life and death. In this tale of intrigue and ambition, treachery and passion, Luceno chronicles the rise and fall of this seminal Sith Lord. Within Plagueis’s story, however, lies another tale‚ that of his apprentice, Darth Sidious, who will one day be known as the Emperor Palpatine. VERDICT A veteran author of many Star Wars ¬Æ novels (Dark Lord; The Rise of Darth Vader; Labyrinth of Evil), Luceno draws on his storytelling skill and prodigious knowledge of the world created by filmmaker George Lucas to craft a complex tale of ambition and desire. With a varied cast of believable characters, this story should please the many fans of the series.

MacAvoy, R.A. Death and Resurrection. Prime. Dec. 2011. c.336p. ISBN 9781607012863. pap. $14.95. FANTASY
When he is caught in an act of violence that strikes close to home, Chinese American painter and martial artist Ewen Young discovers he has the amazing ability to travel within the bardo, the realm between one life and the next. A chance meeting with Nez Perce veterinarian Susan Sundown and her cadaver dog, Resurrection, opens a new world to Ewan as he explores with her the uncertain country between life and death. VERDICT Expanding on her 2009 novella In Between, which she also published as an ebook called The Go-Between, MacAvoy once again demonstrates her talent for infusing action and gentle humor with a fundamental belief in the abiding spirit in all things. A lyrical and remarkable tale of spiritual awakening.

McDevitt, Jack. Firebird: An Alex Benedict Novel. Ace: Berkley. Nov. 2011. 384p. ISBN 9780441020737. $24.95. SF
When antiquities dealer Alex Benedict and his assistant Chase Kolpath find items from the estate of noted physicist Chris Robin, who vanished mysteriously 40 years earlier, they uncover a story of experimental space yachts set adrift and mysterious ships that suggest contact with other dimensions. An intriguing mystery involving the possible true sentience of artificial intelligences adds another layer to the plot. VERDICT Mc Devitt’s sixth far-future mystery featuring Alex and Chase (Echo; The Devil’s Eye) delivers a complex and attention-grabbing puzzle that should please fans.

Meluch, R.M. The Ninth Circle: A Novel of the U.S.S. Merrimack. DAW, dist. by Penguin. Nov. 2011. c.416p. ISBN 9780756406943. $24.95. SF
Exiled after a hazing gone fatally wrong, a unit of Palantine Empire soldiers steals a spaceship and resorts to piracy, calling themselves the Ninth Circle. At the same time, members of the rival Terran Empire’s space battleship, U.S.S. Merrimack, join a scientific expedition to the planet Zoe, where they make an unexpected discovery‚ the presence of DNA-based life. When both Terran and Palatine forces meet up on Zoe, the political standoff threatens a delicate truce and the fate of a peaceful world. VERDICT Meluch’s fifth series installment (after Strength and Honor) takes a personal approach to military sf. The author concentrates on her protagonists’ interactions rather than battles. Still, the action is fast and furious, and combats are inevitable. A good variation of the standard military sf that will attract readers who enjoy David Drake, Timothy Zahn, and David Weber.

Reichert, Mickey Zucker. I, Robot: To Protect. ROC: NAL. Nov. 2011. c.448p. ISBN 9780451464194. $24.95. SF
Although she is the daughter of a robotics pioneer, Dr. Susan Calvin is still surprised to meet N8-C, or Nate, the resident robot in a prestigous teaching hospital’s pediatric psychiatric wing. When a series of sinister events involving her young patients leads her to suspect a problem with the hospital’s cutting-edge work with nanotechnology, N8 lends his knowledge to finding a solution. VERDICT Authorized by Isaac Asimov’s estate, Reichart (Beyond Ragnarok) launches a trilogy that draws on Asimov’s classic I, Robot in a context that is both timely and unusual. This is sure to attract Asimov’s longtime fans and lead newbies back to the original book.

Turtledove, Harry. Supervolcano: Eruption. ROC: NAL. Dec. 2011. c.448p. ISBN 9780451464200. $25.95. SF
The supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park has lain dormant for over 600,000 years, the many geysers‚ including Old Faithful‚ and hot springs the only evidence of its continued activity. When Los Angeles police lieutenant Colin Ferguson, vacationing after a recent divorce, meets geologist Kelly Birnbaum during an unexpected quake in the park, their mutual attraction takes second place to their growing suspicion that the Yellowstone volcano is preparing for an eruption that could spell disaster not only for the United States but also for the planet’s fragile environment. VERDICT The premiere voice of alternate history, Turtledove (Guns of the South) depicts an all-too-real potential future in this page-turner that combines powerful storytelling with convincing characters. A good choice for fans of disaster fiction.

COLLECTIONS & ANTHOLOGIES

Alien Contact. Night Shade. Dec. 2011. c.500p. ed. by Marty Halpern. ISBN 9781597802819. pap. $15.99. SF
From Paul McAuley’s lyrically somber tale of zombielike aliens (The Thought War) to Stephen Baxter’s story of the last alien message to Earth (Last Contact), the 26 tales collected here demonstrate both the variety of alien-contact literature and the enduring popularity of this sf subgenre. VERDICT With strong stories from Neil Gaiman, Orson Scott Card, Mike Resnick, Pat Murphy, and other sf luminaries, this is a choice volume for sf fans and a good introduction to extraterrestial encounter stories.

The Book of Cthulhu. Night Shade. Nov. 2011. c.544p. ed. by Ross E. Lockhart. ISBN 9781597802321. pap. $15.99. HORROR
From tales of the malevolent Great Old Ones that exist beyond the dimensions of this world to beings that inhabit the Dreamlands that border on sanity, the creatures of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos have held the imagination of writers and lovers of dark horror for over a century. Edited by the managing editor of Night Shade Books, this collection of 27 tales pays homage to one of horror’s most compelling voices. Standout entries includes T.E.D. Klein’s 1983 classic tale of exotic horror (Black Man with a Horn), Charles Stross’s 2000 story of political and supernatural horror (A Colder War), and Brian Lumley’s 2011 portrayal of a traveling fair with a darker than usual secret at its heart (The Fairground Horror). Other notable contributors include Kage Baker, Gene Wolf, Thomas Ligotti, and Elizabeth Bear. VERDICT This smorgasbord of Lovecraftian horror should gratify the author’s many fans.

Z: Zombie Stories. Night Shade. Jan. 2012. c.400p. ed. by J.M. Lassen. ISBN 9781597803120. pap. $12.99. HORROR
What is it like to grow up during the zombie apocalypse? That’s the intriguing theme of this YA anthology. In Jonathan Maberry’s Family Business, a boy learns the art of killing zombies from his big brother, while in Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s The Third Dead Body, a young woman explores her feelings after becoming one of the walking dead. Other contributors include Catherynne M. Valente, Christine Morgan, Scott Nicholson, and Kelly Link. VERDICT Adult zombie fans will also want to read these 11 stories that offer original ways of approaching an increasingly popular horror topic.

ADDITIONAL SF/FANTASY

Straub, Peter. Mrs. God. Pegasus. Feb. 2012. c.192p. ISBN 9781605983042. $23.95. HORROR
English professor William Standish leaves his pregnant wife for England to participate in a prestigious fellowship at the Esswood House. An institution quietly famous in scholarly circles for its former literary guests‚ think D.H. Lawrence and T.S. Eliot‚ Esswood House is manned by the reclusive Seneschals, the eccentric family in residence. As Standish conducts scholarly research on his almost grandmother, the little-known poet Isobel, he begins to witness strange occurrences. The novella culminates with a dark, distinctive take on birth and death. Originally published in the 2002 collection Houses Without Doors, Straub’s distinctive horror story makes excellent use of foreshadowing; the addled vagrants and hostile locals are an homage to traditional ghost stories. Furthermore, the main character must resolve a great deal of internal and external conflict, and this only heightens the story’s superb pacing. Straub also offers a tongue-in-cheek portrayal of academia through Standish. Straub (A Dark Matter), of course, needs little introduction as a renowned horror and suspense novelist with many awards to his credit. VERDICT Horror fans will appreciate both the traditional and the nontraditional literary elements of this novella; Straub fans will simply appreciate his work.‚ Rebecca M. Marrall, Western Washington Univ. Libs., Bellingham

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Comments

  1. There is an error in the author’s name at the very beginning of the review of anthology Alien Contact (Night Shade Books). Paul (not Pat) McAuley is the author of the story “The Thought War,” the “lyrically somber tale of zombielike aliens.” I suspect the reviewer may have picked up the name “Pat” from either of two other stories in the anthology: Pat Cadigan’s “Angel” or Pat Murphy’s “Recycling Strategies for the Inner City.”

    Cheers,
    Marty Halpern

  2. Wilda Williams Wilda Williams says:

    Hi Marty, Thanks for pointing out the error. It has been corrected.

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