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The Reference Library
Tom Easton 

Julie Czerneda,
543 pp.
(ISBN: 0756403456)

Julie Czerneda began a new and intriguing series—Species Imperative—with Survival (reviewed here in October 2004), in which salmon researcher Mackenzie (Mac) Connor was enlisted to investigate why many worlds were being attacked by something that left large areas stripped of all life. By the time she was done, the truth was out: The alien Dhryn metamorphosed into a “feeder” form and were surely responsible for the long-lifeless worlds of the Chasm as well as for the current threat. Invisible aliens called the Ro, feared by the Dhryn, may be an essential ally, except that they are not terribly forthcoming.

In the series’ second volume, Migration (reviewed here in November 2005), Mac became a major player in a huge Interspecies Union research effort that in due time revealed the Dhryn to have some remarkable similarities to her beloved salmon and the Ro to be villainous on a scale to rank with any of the creations of the late E. E. “Doc” Smith. Volume three is Regeneration, and it does an excellent job of resolving mysteries and assuring a happy future for both the galaxy and Mac. Her old friend Emily Mamani, still more than a bit twitchy from her mangling by the Ro, is now set to work on a tracking device to find whatever the Ro have left in Earth’s oceans. Mac herself, less twitchy because less mangled, has to deal with the “idiot” faction that continues to view the Ro as representing salvation from the evil Dhryn as she prepares to visit a Dhryn world. That’s when a fleet of Dhryn derelicts is discovered and her team is redirected to checking out the ships. Once there, they discover a single Dhryn survivor, one of the “Wasted” who have failed their metamorphosis into the “Progenitor” (think queen bee) form. It is near starvation, but a human medic analyzes the evidence from the Dhryn homeworld and finds a diet that not only revives the survivor but has marvelous and informative effects. The villainy of the Ro is greater than anyone had suspected!

Czerneda has a touch with aliens that makes me think her world would be a great one to live in. Her humans too—from the officious Oversight (Charles Mudge) to the delectable Nik—are convincing. Her trilogy here reaches its natural and satisfying conclusion, but I wish there were more to come.

And perhaps there is. Emily Mamani is obsessed with the legend of the Survivors, aliens that somehow escaped the ancient devastation wrought in the Chasm. She plans to hunt them out, and that should provide at least one more book. I will look forward to it.

Charles Stross,
335 pp.
(ISBN: 0441014038)

In Charles Stross’s Accelerated future, people can be transmitted hither and yon by Gates that use nanotechnology to disassemble whatever goes in, read out the identity and location of every atom, transmit the data to a destination Gate, and assemble a duplicate. The data can of course be saved, so a person can be backed up or put into a kind of digital “suspended animation.” The data for objects can also be saved, so a Gate is a great way to manufacture whatever one needs, whether clothes or weapons. And since it’s all just data, a person can be copied. (How many of me do you want? Just hit the print button.)

The data can also be edited, so there is an end to disease and injury and old age, as well as any idea that there is only one sort of human body. But there is also a new kind of war, which Stross sees in the old adage about those who do not remember history being condemned to repeat it. If this is true, he suggests, then those who would impose old-style tyrannies would do well to eliminate all memory of history. So he supposes a bit of software, known as Curious Yellow, that infects Gates, installs itself in people’s communications implants, spreads as people are copied through the Gates, and when activated destroys memories of the past. It also activates assassins aimed at historians.

To win such a war must mean destroying infected Gates, quarantining local tyrannies, and disinfecting people, as well as fighting old-style thud-and-blunder battles. Unfortunately, there can be no guarantee that every villain was found or that the villains will find no way to start the war again.

So much is background to Glasshouse, which begins when Robin, who used to be a historian, was a whole tank regiment during the war, and is now recovering from drastic memory editing, meets Kay, cute and four-armed. They get it on quite happily, and when she mentions a certain research study looking for memory-edited volunteers, he lets himself be tempted. The study involves setting up an old-style society (based on best guesses, given the loss of records in the war, of what things were like around 2000) to see how things like the war could happen.

Once in, Robin discovers he’s not a guy any more. He’s Reeve, and it’s no big deal since he’s switched before. But if Kay is there, she’s been changed beyond easy recognition. And the study has no exit, surveillance is constant and total, you get points for acting in character (including getting pregnant), church displays rather strange symbology, and the folks in charge seem more than a little over the top.

If the set-up reminds of Zimbardo’s prison role-play study (in which college students showed how easy it was to start being rather brutal), it is surely deliberate; Stross even mentions Zimbardo at one point. But there’s more than role-play going on. Reeve’s dreams bring awareness that she is on a mission of infiltration. Memory creeps back. The reader learns about the background to the story and grows just as alarmed as Reeve, and as discouraged, for in a world where the self can be easily edited, what room is there for rebellion or dissent?

If you love freedom and liberty, you may well see the Accelerated future as the epitome of personal choice. But there is this other side to the coin, for the choices can be those of others, imposed upon you willy-nilly. The heaven of free choice can become the hell of no choice all too easily. It’s easy to root for Robin/Reeve and to cheer when the good guys prevail. But at the same time it’s hard to see how they had any real chance at all. If the villains had been just a little less sloppy . . .

Still, I recommend it to you as both thought provoking and entertaining. Stross keeps doing very well indeed

Thunder of Time,
James F. David,
400 pp.
(ISBN: 0765307707)

Ten years ago, says the puff sheet, James F. David “burst onto the scene with the exciting time-travel novel, Footprints of Thunder. The basic notion was that suddenly patches of prehistoric jungle, complete with dinosaurs, popped into the modern world (with the corresponding modern patches presumably popping into the ancient world). The phenomenon was quickly dubbed “time-quilting,” it was blamed on nuclear testing, and a bit of nuclear counter-blasting scrambled the responsible time waves and stopped the problem.

Now David is back with Thunder of Time, whose premise is that the problem was stopped only temporarily. Now it’s back, and it’s not just bits of the dinosaurian landscape that are popping up. Time is getting scrambled, and the end of human civilization is at hand! But never fear, Kenny Randall of the earlier book left behind enough theory to give the computer modelers a hand, and Nick Paulson is on the case, begging for funding to investigate mysterious pyramids on the moon and in the Yucatan. He’s also curious about hints of a mysterious government project in Alaska, and when no one will talk, he sets his girlfriend, Elizabeth, on the trail.

That turns out to be another pyramid, and as we learn why the ecoterrorist wants to blow it up with a quartet of bootleg nukes, we learn why pyramids. It’s all about orgone energy, you see. That’s what makes the time-quilting happen, that’s why the government suspects a nefarious hand behind the ongoing disaster, that’s what the government project is about studying and learning to control, and that’s what the ecoterrorist wants to harness to create a world without humans (except for himself and his harem). Schemes aplenty, and those are what Nick, Elizabeth, John Roberts, Ripman, and even Kenny Randall have to stop, if they can avoid hungry tyrannosaurs and blood-crazed Mayans. They also have to choose what sort of world to have when all is said and done.

I suppose it would make a great movie. It’s got enough melodrama and violence to make two! But as soon as David mentions pyramid power and orgone energy—both as thoroughly debunked as phrenology and phlogiston!—suspension of disbelief flies out the window. There is no plausibility, not the sort we are accustomed to in SF, where the made-up bits at least try to be consistent with what we know to be true, nor even the sort we accept in fantasy, where the consistency is with myth and legend and sometimes fairy tales. Here the consistency is with outright falsehood, and it does not work.

Don’t waste your money.

Schlock Mercenary: Under New Management,
Howard Tayler,
80 pp.
(ISBN: 1932775080)

It is perhaps not astonishing how many web-comics there are, but it is astonishing how many are actually quite good. As a case in point, you should look at “Schlock Mercenary” (http://, whose creator, Howard Tayler, has just released his first book, Schlock Mercenary: Under New Management (introduction by John Ringo). The galaxy is occupied by a great many sentient species, a number of which are found in Captain Taff Tagon’s crew aboard the Serial Peacemaker. One of the most charming of the characters is Schlock, who resembles a giant pile of dog poo and hides blasters in his tummy. There’s a mad scientist, Kevyn Andreyasn, who has nearly a billion matterporter and time clones wandering around; not surprisingly he keeps popping up. There are women, busty but deadly. In the book’s bonus tale (never seen online), there are even evil clowns!

And that’s enough to give you the flavor: Inventive and humorous. Look at it online, and then buy the book, if Tayler has any left.

The General,
Rick Sutcliffe, Writers Exchange E-Publishing,
$2.96 from Fictionwise ( (ISBN: 192097265X)

Rick Sutcliffe’s The General is the fourth volume in his Worlds of the Timestream: The Interregnum series. I reviewed the first volume, The Peace, back in May 2001.

Sutcliffe is a professor of computing science and mathematics at Trinity Western University in British Columbia. His fiction he very aptly calls “Christian Science Fiction with an Irish flavour.” The setting is the “Worlds of the Timestream,” a handful of parallel Earths separated by important crisis points. One such point was the Crucifixion; in our own Earth, it happened as we believe; in the world of the story, Pilate released Jesus and Christianity developed with a very different flavor, especially once Ireland came to dominate the world under the High Lord of Heaven. Technology developed centuries ahead of our own schedule, and Irish customs of honor came to govern war and politics. The series began when the King was deposed and his clan was banned for sixty years, a period the series tracks as the King’s kin and friends build a web of sworn loyalties that will someday permit their grandchildren to reclaim the throne.

In The General, those grandchildren are front and center, and the day of their ascendance is not far off. But the nobility are corrupt. There are plots and schemes and conspiracies in plenty, and it’s a darned good thing that the grandchildren are supremely skilled at swordplay, computers, history, and everything else that might be needed. When Mara Meathe comes to court in 1997 and claims her place, ruler Donal XII promptly assigns her to a series of challenging tasks, which she accomplishes with remarkable displays of good sense. Meanwhile—beginning in 1987—Tadgh O’Kelly is working his way up the ranks with a series of forensic investigations that hint at the sort of very nasty kinds of human experimentation and sacrifice that make it no surprise when later the villains reveal an agenda that reminds us of the Nazis of our own world. Jump to 1998, when Sutcliffe introduces us to an amnesic patient in a nursing home on our Earth. Memory struggles to return: an airplane crash, capture, swords hacking at her body. An internal voice, an implanted computer system, hints at her past. There is no name. But as the story develops from 1997, the reader begins to guess. In due time, the heroes—good Christians all, and the best of them Born-Agains—prevail, the amputee is rescued and restored to her position, and the villains are thrown down. Some of them anyway. The series is by no means finished.

The Irish flavor is well handled. The Christianity, however, is not just cultural world-building. There is a good deal of God-talk, good boys and girls remain virginal till married, and liberalism is a corruption of the body politic. Check Sutcliffe’s homepage biography ( and you can see pretty quickly that this is his life. Yet you don’t have to share his beliefs to enjoy the story. It works well as multigenerational dynastic intrigue. The biggest flaw—one hardly unique to this series—is the way the author lapses from time to time into textbookish summary mode, telling the reader what happened rather than showing.

And you can hardly beat the price!

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Third Annual Collection, Gardner Dozois, ed.,
St. Martin’s,
660 + xlii pp.
(ISBN: 0312353340)

I’m looking at this one in May, so it can’t possibly be what it says it is, the best SF of 2006. In fact, every one of the thirty stories in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Third Annual Collection appeared in 2005. But Gardner Dozois has still done an excellent job of finding excellent SF by the likes of Michael Swanwick, Robert Reed, Bruce Sterling, Vonda N. McIntyre, Gene Wolfe, and many more. Many of the names are familiar from our bookshelves. A few—Paolo Bacigalupi, Hannu Rajanieme, Dominic Green, David Moles—are new, at least to me. Source publications are varied, perhaps more than the last time I looked at one of these volumes; perhaps it has served the reader well for Dozois to give up magazine editing. Analog is represented twice, with Harry Turtledove’s “Audubon in Atlantis” and Mary Rosenblum’s “Search Engine.”

As usual, an excellent survey of recent SF, complete with a long essay summing up developments in publishing, TV, and film, and a long list of Honorable Mentions which could easily keep you reading until the next volume comes out.

James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon,
Julie Phillips,
St. Martin’s,
449 + xii pp.
(ISBN: 0312203853)

James Tiptree, Jr., was famous for two things. First, he wrote excellent, insightful stories that took the SF field in new directions, stories that were “brilliant and disturbing . . . urgent messages from some haunted house on the corner of Eros and Mortality.” Second, he didn’t exist. After the debut, after the praise for being a man who (at last!) understood women, “he” turned out to be a woman, Alice Sheldon, whose early photos show her on safari with her parents, who eloped soon after her coming out, who worked for years for the CIA, who became a psychologist, and who eventually committed suicide. A troubled genius, of exactly the sort whose story begs to be told in detail, which is exactly what Julie Phillips does in James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon.

The book is fairly standard in form—parents, childhood, youth, discovering SF&F, developing a rebellious streak, and running head-on into the inevitable conflicts that awaited any woman who wanted to be independent in the 1930s. Phillips uses letters of Alice Sheldon and her mother, interviews with family members and colleagues, and a great deal of research to assemble the story of who Sheldon was, what made her that way, why she wrote, and finally why she died. The result is one more book that deserves a place in every SF reader’s library.

Heinlein’s Children: The Juveniles,
Joseph T. Major,
535 + xvi pp.

A major foundation block for Robert A. Heinlein’s reputation is the dozen novels known as the “Heinlein juveniles.” They began with Rocket Ship Galileo in 1947 and continued through Have Space Suit, Will Travel (1958), all from Scribner’s, and they introduced a generation of kids to the solar system and the galaxy and the wonderful adventures waiting to be embarked upon. Some of those kids became the rocket scientists who put astronauts on the moon in the ‘60s. Some became science fiction writers, many of whom are still mining the claims staked out by Heinlein and struggling to meet the standards Heinlein set.

After 1958, Heinlein signed with Putnam for the still youth-oriented but more adult-toned Starship Troopers and Podkayne of Mars. All fourteen novels are discussed at length in Joseph T. Major’s Heinlein’s Children: The Juveniles. His focus is plot and context and interconnections, not literary and social significance, which makes the book an excellent survey for those who remember the juveniles fondly, wish a reminder but don’t want to reread them all (there are so many new novels coming out, after all!), or who want to know what all the fuss was and is about. In his introduction, Alexei Panshin (author of Heinlein in Dimension, 1968) does an excellent job of portraying Heinlein’s impact on the kids of the time: His work was eye opening “growth food,” a taste of the future (in Space Cadet, 1948, there is actually a pocket-sized phone of a very familiar sort today), and life-lessons galore.

This one is essential to any good SF collection.

Ten Worlds: Everything that Orbits the Sun,
Ken Croswell,
Boyds Mills Press,
56 pp.
(ISBN: 1590784235)

It’s for kids nine and up, but Ken Croswell’s Ten Worlds: Everything that Orbits the Sun is still a coffee-table book, over-sized and loaded with gorgeous photos and paintings of planets and moons. What makes it kid stuff is surely its accessibility, a matter of length, simplicity of language, and price. It’s the first book to include the newly discovered tenth planet beyond Pluto and its gentle introduction to the rest of the Solar System is entirely suitable for older readers who want to know a bit more.I don’t expect Analog readers are very likely to want this one for themselves. But Analog readers have kids and grandkids and friends, and though this is the December column, you’re reading it in plenty of time to buy this one as a gift.

"The Reference Library" copyright 2006, Tom Easton
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