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The Reference Library by Don Sakers

This is the December issue, which means it’s time to encourage you all to be subversive. In many cultures, the end of the year is gift-giving time, and of course you want to give your friends and family reading material. In fact, being a good and proper Analog reader, you want to give them science fiction.
Trouble is, some people don’t think they like SF. Here’s where the subversion comes in . . . as is the custom, I’m going to give you some suggestions for books you can use to sneak SF in on those people. The trick is to accompany your presents with a sincere and enthusiastic “I know you like to read xyz, so I got you this.” You’re such a thoughtful, generous friend, how can they resist reading your gift? And now you’ve got them reading SF. (Rubbing your hands together and cackling at the success of your devious scheme is optional.)
Before we get down to specific titles, I’d like to make a general recommendation for any voracious readers on your list: if they don’t already have an e-reader, it’s time to get them one. The e-book revolution is in full swing, and enormous tectonic shifts are happening throughout the geology of the publishing world. As you’ve probably noticed in this column, most new books are available as e-books, usually from multiple vendors and in multiple formats. Small presses and individual authors are scrambling to make older, out of print works available as e-books. Increasingly, low-price e-books are the place to try out new and unfamiliar authors without risking your money on paperbacks that are quickly approaching ten dollars. Such are the economics of e-publishing that it’s not uncommon for authors to have at least some of their work unavailable in print at all. Over the next decade, I wouldn’t be surprised to see mass market paperbacks start to disappear, replaced by e-books.
The publishing business aside, there are plenty of other reasons to have an e-reader. While e-book prices are still too high, at least from the big publishers, you can almost always get them cheaper than their print counterparts. For voracious readers, the experience of having dozens (or hundreds) of books at one’s fingertips is heady . . . as is the instant gratification of being able to read a book seconds after discovering its existence. More and more public libraries are making e-books available to their patrons, despite opposition from many publishers.
I’m not going to tell you which e-reader to get. There are a variety of manufacturers, styles, and prices; judge by your own means and needs. I’ve used most of the major competitors—iPad, Kindle, Nook, Sony—and have friends who use just about everything. Any of them are fine for reading, especially fiction and popular nonfiction. Don’t worry about picking the “perfect” device, this isn’t a lifelong commitment.
Before we dive into recommendations for those who don’t read SF, I’ll make my standard plug for the magazine you’re reading right now. For any reader of SF or speculative science, a subscription to Analog makes a superb gift. You can even get a subscription to the e-book edition.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction,
Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection

edited by Gardner Dozois
St. Martin’s, 704 pages, $21.99
(trade paperback)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $9.99 (e-book)
ISBN: 978-1-250-00355-3
Genre: Reprint Anthology

The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection

This one is for the literary folks. If they read SF, they wouldn’t be caught dead reading Analog; if they don’t read SF, they are certainly devotees of Margaret Atwood and Michael Chabon.
Gardner Dozois, hard-working former editor of our sister publication Asimov’s Science Fiction, performs the annual Herculean task of bringing together the prestige anthology of the science fiction universe. As massive as they are authoritative, each volume is packed with stories (this year there are 35) as well as a scholarly retrospective of the year.

Well, different editors and different readers have different tastes, and Gardner’s idea of a great story isn’t necessarily that of the average Analog reader. The Year’s Best Science Fiction collections are weighed more in the direction of literary quality and less in the direction of rigorous science (this time around only one story—Alec Navala-Lee’s “The Boneless One”—was published in Analog.) I’m not being negative here; these are all good stories, well worth reading. The list of authors includes John Barnes, Peter S. Beagle, Elizabeth Bear, Michael A. Flynn, Robert Reed, Geoff Ryman, Michael Swanwick, and dozens more, all masters of the craft.

The literary SF reader will be in heaven. As for the literary non-SF reader, you’ll only have to do a little bit of persuasion. Point to the “Year’s Best” in the title and the phrase “Award Winning” on the cover. Let them heft the book, examine the small type, and inspect the eight-page “Honorable Mention” list at the end. This is clearly an Important Literary Book. Finally, mention Peter S. Beagle, Robert Reed, and Cory Doctorow. That will surely perk up their ears.


Dragon Ship
Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
Baen, 400 pages, $22.00 (hardcover)
Baen Ebooks: $6.00 (e-book)
ISBN: 978-1-4516-3798-4
Series: Liaden Universe: Theo Waitley 4
Genre: Romantic SF

Dragon Ship

What about the romance reader on your list? Well, to begin with, she’s probably more friendly to SF than you think.

While you weren’t looking, the romance field has undergone some pretty major changes. While there are still a lot of the old formula romances around, many romance readers have embraced enormous diversity of settings, styles, and cross-genre hybridization. The biggest and most vital category of romances today is the “paranormal romance,” which includes everything from steampunk vampires to far-future SF.

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Liaden Universe series successfully blends space opera SF with paranormal romance, yielding a result sure to delight readers from both sides of the fence.
When we last left Theo Waitley, plucky space pilot and lusty lover (Ghost Ship, 2011), she was saddled with the self-aware trade ship Bechimo. Together in symbiosis, Theo and Bechimo are incredibly powerful—but the symbiosis is all-consuming, and Bechimo is a jealous partner.
Meanwhile, Theo has a few other things to keep her busy. Her former lover is dying of a strange nano-virus, she’s stuck in the middle of an explosive political situation, and suddenly she’s responsible for engineering the rescue of a few hundred fellow pilots in an orbiting death-trap.

Adventure, espionage, romance, drama, humor—Dragon Ship has everything a romance or SF reader is looking for. Deliberate echoes of Anne McCaffrey just add icing to the cake. If your romance reader likes this one, there are plenty of other Liaden Universe books.



Tales from the Clockwork Empire
Ian Duerden
Markosia Enterprises, 128 pages,
$17.99 (graphic novel)
iBooks, Kindle: $5.99 Nook: 3 volumes,
$0.99 each (e-book)
ISBN: 978-1-905692-67-5
Genre: Graphic Novels, Steampunk

Tales from the Clockwork Empire

Chances are good that you know someone who likes steampunk, graphic novels, or both. If so, I have a treat to tell you about.

Ian Duerden’s Tales from the Clockwork Empire isn’t, technically, steampunk at all. The story takes place in an alternate history in which the advent of steam power was delayed, and the previous clockwork technology of springs and gears continued to advance. The flavor of steampunk is here—charmingly anachronistic mechanisms, baroque designs, plenty of brass and wood—but there’s nary a puff of steam.

It’s 1803 and Napoleon has set his sights on England. Admiral Nelson’s fleet stands ready to protect Britain . . . but beneath the English Channel, intricate clockwork submersibles attack with spring-powered torpedoes. Investigative reporter Calamus Quill, with the aid of the beautiful Lady Isabella Hastings, is on the trail of the genius behind submersibles and torpedoes—the dastardly turncoat inventor Lord Percy Dashwood. Their quest takes Quill and Lady Isabella to the bottom of the Channel and beyond, to an Imperial Russia besieged by flying clockwork AirKites.
Meanwhile, in a framing sequence set millennia in the future, we witness the legacy of the Clockwork Empires, a strange world in which automatons have replaced human beings. The book ends with a setup for the sequel: beneath the sands of Egypt, long-stilled clockworks are reactivated, and a three-thousand-year-old Empire begins to awaken. . . .

In graphic novels art is as important as writing, and Tales from the Clockwork Empire doesn’t disappoint. The visuals are stunning, the technology intricate and beautiful. The pages are painted, not drawn, an effect which adds to the sumptuous air of luxury. Throughout the book Duerden constantly plays at muddying the distinction between clockworks and real life. He renders human forms and faces in a frozen, digitally-generated aspect that makes his characters seem almost like sophisticated automatons themselves.

You might have to work a little bit to get a hold of this book, but the effort is well worth it. Markosia Enterprises is a British company; their titles can be found in large comic shops, and you can always visit their website (www.markosia.com). For that person who likes steampunk or graphic novels, this is a special gift that won’t be forgotten.


Year Zero
Rob Reid
Del Rey, 357 pages, $25.00 (hardcover)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $12.99 (e-book)
ISBN: 978-0-345-53441-5Genre: Humorous SF

Year Zero

Are you looking for a gift for a hip, funny guy or gal? Someone who wears earbuds all the time, and constantly shares their playlist on every social media channel known to humanity? Give that person Year Zero. (And forget the hardcover: give them the e-book version. They’ll read it on their phone and laugh the whole time.)

Rob Reid knows a thing or two about the internet music scene; he founded the company that created Rhapsody, one of the first legal music download sites. His credentials in the tech world are impeccable; he’s also a good storyteller and a true master of the absurd.

Nick Carter, very junior partner in the entertainment law firm of Carter, Geller & Marks, specializes in copyright law involving music. One morning, his office is invaded by a nun and a mullah who explain that they are extraterrestrials, and they’d like to obtain a license for all Earth music, a license that would cover the entire universe.

At first Nick thinks he’s being hoaxed, even when his visitors vanish before him. But an encounter with a particularly nasty parrot, followed by a second meeting with the aliens, convinces him that there’s trouble.

You see, in 1977 (known as Year Zero), a passing alien space probe discovered Earth’s music (specifically, the theme from Welcome Back Kotter). Aliens had never heard anything like music, and pretty soon the whole universe was addicted to Human tunes.

Further probes were sent to record every bit of music played in New York, and the resulting supernova of interstellar file sharing made Napster look like a birthday candle. Earth music spread through the galaxies.

But where there is copyright violation, there are fines and penalties. By the present day, the rest of the universe is bankrupt, and Humans own . . . well . . . everything.
That doesn’t sit well with the movers and shakers, and Earth in a lot of danger. Carter’s two visitors appeal to him to clean up the whole mess—and he’s got 48 hours to do it. While being chased by a universe full of bad guys.

It’s crazier than the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, crammed full of jokes for the music fan, and manages the near-impossible task of bringing drama and humor to copyright law. Definitely a fun romp.

The High Crusade: 50th Anniversary Edition
Poul Anderson
Baen, 262 pages, $7.99 (mass market)
Baen Ebooks: $6.00 (e-book)
ISBN: 978-1-4516-3832-5
Genre: Space Opera

 

The High Crusade: 50th Anniversary Edition

Do you know a history buff, or someone who reads historical fiction? Introduce them to this classic SF tale by a master of SF and history.

The High Crusade appeared as a serial in Analog in 1960, and stayed in print for decades as a standalone novel. Now this story of medieval knights in combat against an alien interstellar empire is back in print along with a sequel short story and appreciations from various SF luminaries.
The story is as audacious as it is entertaining. In England in 1345, Sir Roger Baron de Tourneville is training his knights to join in the war against France. Suddenly, a huge spaceship lands in the quiet Lincolnshire village. Out come the alien Wersgorix, bent on invasion and conquest. The Wersgorix rule a vast galactic empire, and they’re very good an conquering planets. Or so they think.

Unfortunately, all the weaponry and tactics are based on high tech, and they’ve long forgotten the techniques of hand-to-hand combat. Frankly, the aliens don’t stand a chance against Sir Roger’s knights.

Eager to deliver the captured spaceship to the battlefields of France, Sir Roger brings the entire population of the town aboard with all their belongings. They take off successfully, but miss the mark and wind up on a Wersgorix outpost world instead of France.

What with one thing and another, it isn’t long before the knights control the outpost world, and Sir Roger leads them on a new Crusade to defeat the Empire and free all its slave races.
The characters are compelling, the adventure thrilling, and the history spot on correct. Seeing interstellar technology through the eyes of fourteenth century knights is one of the delights of the tale. Your history buff reader will love this book as generations before have.

By the way, The High Crusade would make a killer film. There was a 1994 movie version, but by all accounts it was dreadful . . . it’s high time for a good one. Besides, I have the perfect tagline for the action-packed trailer, filled with shots of knights battling hideous aliens: “Resistance is feudal!”
Ahem.


Hank Reinhardt’s Book of Knives
Hank Reinhardt
Baen, 180 pages, $13.00 (trade paperback)
Baen Ebooks: $6.00 (e-book)
ISBN: 978-1-4516-3755-7
Genre: Nonfiction

Hank Reinhardt’s Book of Knives

Do you know someone who’s a military enthusiast? How about a gamer? Or anyone who writes SF, fantasy, thrillers, mysteries, or historical fiction? This is a weird one, invaluable to the right person. It’s not SF, but certainly of interest to many in the SF community.

Hank Reinhardt was a student of fighting styles. In this well-researched and highly readable book, he presents everything there is to know about knives and knife fighting, complete with pictures and diagrams. From the history of knives through such chapters as “the street knife,” “knife concealment,” and “wounds,” Reinhardt dispels all the Hollywood myths of what knife fighting is like. (Example: “Holding the blade with the edge up may look tough and macho, but . . . limits your mobility.”)

Reinhardt passed away before completing the book; one of his students, Greg Phillips, completed the chapters on choosing a knife and acquiring skills.

For someone who is interested in the subject, this book gives a wealth of information.

I’d like to make mention of a new anthology called Galactic Creatures, edited by Elektra Hammond. All the stories are based on the idea of spaceships made in the shape of animals. Now, the anthology contains one of my stories, so obviously I can’t give it a review, but I thought Analog readers would want to know it exists.

 



That’s it for this time around. Safe and happy holidays to all, and best of wishes for the new year.

Don Sakers is the author of The Leaves of October and A Voice in Every Wind. For more information, visit www.scatteredworlds.com.

"The Reference Library" Copyright © 2012, Don Sakers

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