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The Reference Library
Tom Easton 


Violent Stars, Phyllis Gotlieb, TOR, $23.95, 284 pp. (ISBN: 0-312-86953-3)
Phyllis Gotlieb’s Violent Stars is the sequel to her Flesh and Gold (reviewed here in May 1998), at the end of which the criminal organization known as Zamos had had a serious monkey wrench tossed into their system of brothels, casinos, and genetically engineered slaves. Zamos is on trial now, with long processions of dinosauroid Khagodis, humans, amoeboid Lyhhrt (superlative bio and mechanical engineers long enslaved by the evil, insectile Ix), and others.

Now meet Tom Bullivant, Terran Ambassador to Khagodis, just arrived with Verona, the daughter of his late wife. The wife, long ago, was kidnapped and tormented. Bully married her, knowing she was pregnant, and watched helplessly as she spiraled downward into madness. Now it is Verona’s turn, for there she is, safe in her room on Khagodis, when an Ix breaks through the roof and carries her off. The message for her father is: "We have lost the bitch but we have the whelp. If you do not stop prosecuting and persecuting our people the whelp will suffer nine powers of six times what the bitch did."

Zamos and Ix, allied evils bestriding the civilized worlds, do their utmost to stop the trial and maintain their grips. Ned Gattes, hero of the last book, has been summoned to aid the trial; now he must rescue Verona. Skerow, the Khagodis judge we met before, must shield her against Ix rapacity, while Hasso, child of Skerow’s late lover, uses his talents as a master of archives to unearth disturbing links between Verona, her mother, and Zamos.

And so it goes. This is an active, violent, exciting tale of conspiracies and schemes, and a very satisfactory conclusion to what began in Flesh and Gold.

Enjoy!

 


The Dragon’s Eye, Joel Champetier, TOR, $23.95, 301 pp. (ISBN: 0-312-86882-0).
French-Canadian Joel Champetier’s The Dragon’s Eye appeared in French in 1991. Now Jean-Louis Trudel has translated it into English, and TOR is offering it to the American market with a blurb calling Champetier "a stunning new talent."

Some of that’s hype, of course. Champetier’s better than many, maybe even better than most, but my socks stayed on. Eye is set on the distant colony world of New China, most of which was turned over to the Chinese for colonization. An island enclave was retained by Earth’s dominant European-Japanese economy, which had backed the colonization effort with many gigabucks. Here are based the military forces meant to ensure repayment of the debt and a number of secret agent groups keeping eyes on each other and the New Chinese, who are rebuilding ancient China and muttering about declaring independence from Earth and repudiating their massive debt. The echoes of Earth’s own China, flanked by European outposts at Hong Kong and Macao, is surely deliberate. Today’s reader may think of China’s recent reassertion of hegemony over Hong Kong, but there are earlier parallels as well.

At any rate, Earth wants to know what is going on. Thus the latest ship brings Commander Wang Zhong, on a secret mission, and Réjean Tanner, new man for the local European Bureau. Alas, an apparent assassination attempt on the New Chinese head honcho puts Wang in the hospital. Tanner inherits the mission: infiltrate the mainland, find the mole in the New Chinese government, who has gone unaccountably silent, and bring him back for debriefing.

And now begins the magical mystery tour through a China that might once have been, reborn on a strange new world flooded with ultraviolet by a green binary known as the Eye of the Dragon, and peopled by ordinary folks busily adapting and learning to thrive. There’s plenty of local color, the characters are satisfying, and the games Champetier plays with our own history are interesting. The book is a clear success, and you’ll surely enjoy it.

But to call it stunning seems a bit of a stretch.

 


Dog Eat Dog, Jerry Jay Carroll, Ace, $12, 295 pp. (ISBN: 0-441-00597-7)
Jerry Jay Carroll made a hit with Top Dog, in which Wall Street takeover shark Bogey Ingersol was magicked into another world to help Satan’s local minion, Zalzathar, stomp the Forces of Good. Zalzathar had been trying for someone else, Bernie Soderberg, an even more kindred spirit, but Bogey was what he got–in the form of a dog who, in due time, switched to the side of the angels. Zalzathar lost even though Satan himself got into the act to help. Bogey went home, and his body woke up from its coma.

And he was a changed man. He served his time, lost weight, quit ripping off widows and orphans, and moved to California to take in stray dogs and give his money away. But it’s a Dog Eat Dog world. Soderberg seems to have changed too–he’s lining up for a run at the White House, he’s spending money on consultants like it was popcorn, news photos show a Mr. Dark who looks a lot like Zalzathar whispering in his ear, and Pig Faces (Zalzathar’s shock troops in the other world) are slaughtering Bogey’s neighbors.

What’s a reformed wolf to do but go to psychiatrist Alex Epperly, who thinks Bogey’s story is classically delusional, just dreams from a coma, until he shows up on her doorstep as a chihuahua and enlists her in the battle to save the Earth with the aid of an angel or two, a lawyer of flexible ethic$, a private security agency, and a political consultant with a knack for some hilarious dirty tricks. The end is never, of course, in doubt, but Carroll gives you your money’s worth of entertainment on the way.

Enjoy.

 


Timberjak, Don DeBrandt, Ace, $5.99, 370 pp. (ISBN: 0-441-00626-4)
When I reviewed Don DeBrandt’s Steeldriver a year ago, I said that anyone who enjoys Mike Resnick’s use of tall tales in SF should have fun with it. That novel used the myth of John Henry, the steel-drivin’ man, and wound up saying that the eternal struggle is to escape not the bonds of the machine, but the bonds of the machine’s masters, the human monsters whose drive is to enslave their fellows.

In Timberjak–starring Paul Banyan and his sidekick Bob the blue Shinnkarien Ox–DeBrandt tackles environmental protection. The survivors of the previous tale–Hone, the cyber-enhanced "repo man" who killed Jon Hundred; Mike, who now has no body and dwells in hyperspace; Melody, an AI; and a stowaway Toolie–have been fleeing a fleet of Manticores, death machines sent to destroy the traitor Hone. Now they have reached Shinnkaria, whose forests yield a wood that generates force fields and is essential to interstellar travel. Part of the forest is the Indigo Wild, where both minds and electronics stop working and assorted nasty beasts defend the premises. So does Johnny Rainforest, who wants Paul Banyan’s logging operation shut down and sends those nasties to make his point. There’s also a slimeball lawyer who wants to set up a corporate takeover and shave the planet bald.

Among the things driving Johnny are the knowledge that Paul has been upping production and the suspicion that Paul is a planet-shaver. Paul, however, has a different agenda, and when our Manticore-bait heroes show up, he hires them to stop Johnny. They succeed, of course, but they also discover that alien technologies underlie the planet’s peculiarities, save the planet itself, remove the lawyer from the scene, rehabilitate the misguided environmentalist, and come up with a quite dreadful terminal pun.

A nice action story that gains a nice degree of added charm because it reminds us of a childhood favorite.

 


Operation Luna, Poul Anderson, TOR, $22.95, 316 pp. (ISBN: 0-312-86706-9)
Ginny Greylock and Steve Matuchek are back in Poul Anderson’s Operation Luna, the sequel to Operation Chaos (1971). She’s a witch, and he’s a werewolf and a spacecraft engineer who works with "goetic" (magical) instead of electronic forces. That is, here’s a classic Unknown-type blend of magic and rationalism, a world drawn to seem as parallel as possible to our own, with many a sly dig and witty reminder. The situation is this: Faerie has apparently moved to the Moon, and the U.S., using a spacecraft scientists acquired after war with the Caliphate (instead of Germany), is constructing an Apollo equivalent. Alas, despite a profusion of magical protections, it malfunctions shortly after launch and it quickly emerges that malign forces are at work.

With the NASA (National Astral Spellcraft Administration) effort dead, any future trips to the Moon must be up to Steve’s own low-budget Operation Luna. He gains the assistance of Fjalar, a Norwegian dwarf, and soon has a high-tech broom, as lean and mean as a home-built jet. But the forces of evil have winded him, and he and Ginny, with the help of a Zuni Priest of the Bow and Fjalar, must fight off the diabolical taxman, cleanse the soul of Ginny’s brother, rescue a child trapped on a one-way voyage to the Oort Cloud, and save the Fair Folk from the demons.

If you recall the earlier novel, this is a suitable sequel, every bit as satisfying as one expects from the master.

 


Plan B, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Meisha Merlin (P. O. Box 7, Decatur, GA 30031), $14, 335 pp. (ISBN: 1-892065-00-2)
Stephen Pagel’s Meisha Merlin Publishing looks like a winning operation. It’s still small, but it has a nice roster of authors, the titles in hand look like winners, and Pagel’s table in the Boskone dealer room was quite busy.

Sharon Lee’s and Steve Miller’s Plan B is the long awaited continuation of their Liaden Universe series, which began in the late eighties with Conflict of Honors, Agent of Change, and Carpe Diem (reviewed here in April 1990). The publisher dropped the series just as it hovered on the cusp of great developments, and for a decade Liaden fans have pestered Sharon and Steve for more. Happily, they have found another publisher in Meisha Merlin, who plans to reissue the earlier books in the omnibus volume Partners in Necessity; there will also be other books.

Liaden is a world organized by clans, one of which is Korval, quirky and independent enough to be a special target for destruction by the nefarious Department of the Interior, which once had Val Con yos’Phelium thoroughly under its thumb. Fortunately, Val Con got loose, together with his lifemate Miri. Clan Korval decided it was under attack and it was time to put the long-plotted "Plan B" into action, meaning to disperse and hunker while Val Con’s brother Shan arms his merchant ship, and Val Con and Miri visit the world of Lytaxin to nail down her identity as a long-lost scion of Erob, a clan long and intimately allied with Korval. Of course, while they’re there, the Yxtrang (something like a horde of giant Mongols or wild Dorsai) attack Lytaxin and must be resisted until all the various friends and relations of Val Con and Miri can converge on the battle zone to bestow whatever coup de grace remains unbestowed.

When I reviewed Carpe Diem, I had both praise and reservations. The latter centered in part on a certain murkiness owing to the tale’s dependence on preceding volumes. The dependence remains, but the murkiness is gone. Sharon and Steve used their time between publishers to good advantage, honing this one into an exciting romp that promises their fans a great deal of fun with future volumes.

 


Sex and Violence in Zero-G, Allen Steele, Meisha Merlin (P. O. Box 7, Decatur, GA 30031), $16, 431 pp. (ISBN: 0-9658345-9-X)
Allen Steele’s Sex and Violence in Zero-G collects all of his "Near-Space" stories except "Red Planet Blues," including "The Weight," a novella previously published only by England’s Legend and reviewed here in August 1996 ("it centers on the voyage of the Medici Explorer, a deep-space shepherd for a convoy of automated freighters, from lunar orbit to Jupiter, where it will pick up a shipment of Helium-3 for Earth’s fusion power plants. . . . quite descriptive of the ship, its procedures, and its crew–an ‘extended family’ of a sort Heinlein would have liked. For drama, Steele tosses in a bit of resentment of media interest in the family’s sex life, the rescue of a marooned space-wreck survivor, and an insurrection at the Helium-3 depot. The overall effect is thoughtful but light. . ."). There are also a few new items, including "0.0G Sex: A User’s Guide" (instructions for use of the fornicatorium on a deep space liner), a "Near-Space Timeline," and sketches of ships and space stations.

A "must-have" for Steele fans.

 

 

The Essential Hal Clement, Volume 1: Trio for Slide Rule & Typewriter, Mark L. Olson and Anthony R. Lewis, eds., NESFA Press (P. O. Box 809, Framingham, MA 01701), $25, 523 pp. (ISBN:1-886778-06-X)
Last February 22, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) announced their choice of Hal Clement (Harry Clement Stubbs) for the 1998 Grand Master award, representing "the pinnacle of peer recognition in the genres of science fiction and fantasy." This award is given "by SFWA in recognition of a lifetime of achievement in science fiction and/or fantasy writing. . . . Previous Grand Masters include Robert A. Heinlein (1974), Jack Williamson (1975), Clifford D. Simak (1976), L. Sprague de Camp (1978), Fritz Leiber (1981), Andre Norton (1983), Arthur C. Clarke (1985), Isaac Asimov (1986), Alfred Bester (1987), Ray Bradbury (1988), Lester del Rey (1990), Frederik Pohl (1992), Damon Knight (1994), A. E. van Vogt (1995), Jack Vance (1996), and Poul Anderson (1997)." Hal began his career with an Astounding short story ("Proof") in 1946 and went on to write seminal works of hard SF such as Mission of Gravity, which "typifies Clement’s imaginative creation of scientifically plausible but truly weird worlds, a recurring theme of his work. A clean, spare writer with an ability to dramatize complex scientific ideas in a compelling way, Clement invariably leaves the reader with the sense that the universe is a fascinating and wonderful place–and the laws that govern its behavior are equally fascinating and wonderful. Consequently, his work has influenced and inspired a whole generation of scientists and engineers as well as a whole generation of writers." [quotations from the SFWA press release]

If you think that sounds like so much nostalgic hype, you’re too young to remember Hal and his work. You should therefore get on the stick and immediately order a copy of The Essential Hal Clement, Volume 1: Trio for Slide Rule & Typewriter, which includes the novels Needle (1949) (symbiotes as cops and robbers), Iceworld (1951) (heat-lovers visit Earth), and Close to Critical (1958) (survival in question on a high-gravity, high-pressure world), all once Astounding serials and still eminently readable.

If you’re familiar with Hal’s work and know that press release tells it true, you will be delighted to know that NESFA plans two more attractive hardbounds to replace those ratty old paperbacks on your bookshelves.

 

The Compleat Boucher: The Complete Short Science Fiction and Fantasy of Anthony Boucher, James A. Mann, ed., NESFA Press (P. O. Box 809, Framingham, MA 01701), $25, 532 + x pp. (ISBN:1-886778-02-7)
NESFA also brings us The Compleat Boucher: The Complete Short Science Fiction and Fantasy of Anthony Boucher. Boucher, whose real name was William Anthony Parker White, was the co-founder of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction way back in 1949, was a well-known mystery writer, edited popular SF anthologies, and in the 1940s wrote a great deal of SF&F for Unknown Worlds and Astounding.

You’ll find the stories–forty-five of them–here, beginning with the one editor Jim Mann calls his best, "The Quest for Saint Aquin." Many are short, witty, and as readable as ever even if styles have changed in the last half-century. One item is particularly tasty: Boucher was also a critic, opera fan, and gourmet chef, and to prove that last, Mann caps the book with his "Recipe for Curry De Luxe."

 


The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction, Rachel P. Maines, Johns Hopkins University Press, $22, 184 + xx pp. (ISBN: 0-8018-5941-7)
It’s technology, this is a science fiction magazine, and Library Journal’s review said, "This fascinating and exquisitely referenced true story reads like twisted science fiction," so please bear with me as I tell you about Rachel P. Maines’s The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction, no matter how vigorously your eyebrows are denting the ceiling.

First, the preface is a hoot and a half, for the author displays a very nice sense of humor as she recounts the receptions her talks and papers on her book’s topic have received.

Second, the book is quite serious and extraordinarily illuminating and thought-provoking. Maines tells us that "hysteria" is an ancient ailment whose symptoms have occasionally been recognized as those of sexual excitement unrelieved by orgasm. Our culture has long focused on the "androgenic model" of sexuality, meaning penetration and male orgasm, and assumed that what satisfies him should certainly satisfy her, despite data showing that "androgenic" sex leaves most women high and dry. Her resulting condition has been defined by male doctors as an illness. The treatment was pelvic massage, generally by hand. Treatment was an office-visit cash cow for physicians, and despite the prurient giggle the idea may arouse in us today, few of those physicians seemed to find much thrill in it. Indeed, stimulating female patients to relief of their symptoms of orgasmic deprivation was "the job nobody wanted"; physicians palmed it off on interns and midwives, and when technology produced substitutes for the hand, they welcomed it.

In the nineteenth century, one popular technology was hydrotherapy, meaning the use of water under pressure–douches and hoses–to vibrate the pelvic tissues. The major problem with it was apparently keeping the patients from overindulging.

Other techniques included steam-powered massagers and electrically powered vibrators, some of which looked Rube-Goldbergy enough to scare a modern into orgasmic incapability. The mechanisms quickly shrank in size, and when they appeared in stag films such as "Widow’s Delight" in the 1920s, they stopped appearing in physicians’ offices. Instead, they went home, with even Sears, Roebuck advertising "Aids That Every Woman Appreciates" (the attachments included a mixer and a fan, among other things).

Maines has a good deal to say about the "medicalization" of women’s sexuality, male blindness or obtuseness (which by her account is quite phenomenal) and selfishness, and "social camouflage," which means the immense unconscious effort we can go to to keep from calling a spade a spade, or a vibrator an orgasm-producer. In the twenties, she says, the camouflage was ruptured. Advertising to both the medical and home markets vanished, for the undisguised vibrator was no longer respectable. By the sixties, however, "the modern vibrator [had] resurfaced . . . as a frankly sexual toy. . . [and] few efforts were made to camouflage its sexual benefits."

At least until 1998, when Alabama banned the sale of "sex toys," notably including vibrators, as part of its effort to eliminate sex shops (the penalty if caught is a $10,000 fine and a year of hard labor). As I was reading Maines’s book, the news that week was that the American Civil Liberties Union and a number of local women were asking a federal court to strike the state law down as unconstitutional.

And the camouflage remains intact: Even in Alabama, you can pop down to Wal-Mart and pick one up–the label says it’s for massage and muscle relaxation, and the picture on the box shows it held against the side of a lovely lady’s neck.

But everyone still knows what it’s really for.

"The Reference Library" copyright 1999, Tom Easton