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The Reference Library

by Don Sakers

With 71% of Earth’s surface covered in ocean, some have quipped that the planet should be named Water instead of Earth. Well, science fiction can do better. Our field has a long tradition of stories set on planets with much more water than a paltry 71%. In SF, no planet is worthy of the term “water world” until it’s at least 98% wet.

The first water world of any note in SF was Venus. Until the Space Age, no one knew what was under our sister planet’s eternal cloud cover. The two main speculations were some kind of steamy, prehistoric jungle or a world-girdling ocean. Venus-as-water-world appeared in many early SF tales, notably Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men (1930) and C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra (1943).

A completely different take on the water world featured in James Bliosh’s 1952 short story “Surface Tension.” In that story, the genetically engineered descendants of humans are microscopic beings whose entire underwater world is in reality a tiny pond on the surface of an alien planet.

Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 novel Solaris introduced a water-covered world of the same name—a world that possessed an alien sapience. In 1966 Jack Vance took readers to the Blue World, where the descendants of crashed human vessels live on city-size lily pads. The water world Kithrup plays a big part in David Brin’s Startide Rising (1983; portions appeared as “The Tides of Kithrup” in Analog May 1981).

For some reason, 1986 was a big year for water worlds. That year saw the publication of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and Earth (featuring a water world called Alpha), Arthur C. Clarke’s Songs of Distant Earth (set on the water world Thalassa), and A Door Into Ocean by Joan Sloncsewski (a tale of revolution on the ocean moon Shora).

Carol Severance’s Reefsong (1991) took us to the water planet Lesaat; in the same year Robert Silverberg set Face of the Water on ocean world Hydros.

The infamous movie Waterworld (1995) was set on a flooded Earth. The ocean planet Atlantis plays an important part in Peter F. Hamilton’s The Reality Dysfunction (1996). Genetically altered humans return in Alison Sinclair’s Blueheart (1996), as inhabitants of a water world of the same name.

The oceans of Kamino figured heavily in 2002’s Star Wars: The Attack of the Clones. Hal Clement wrote of Kainui, a world with oceans 3,000 kilometers deep, in Noise (2003). In 2008’s Flood Stephen Baxter released unsuspected subsurface oceans to flood Earth, turning it into a genuine water world (and telling a most unusual disaster story). Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross (2013) is set partially on a far-future water world called Shin-Tethys. The 2014 movie Interstellar took viewers to an ocean world called Miller’s Planet.

More recently, with the real-life discovery of possible subsurface oceans on Europa, Enceladus, and even Pluto have paved the way for a brand-new type of water world for SF writers to explore.

*   *   *

Songs of Thalassa
Brian N.Tissot
BookBaby, 305 pages, $16.99 (trade paperback)
Kindle: $2.99 (ebook)
ISBN: 978-1-0983-0150-7
Series: Songs of the Universe 1
Genre: Music SF, Undersea/On the Sea, Water Worlds

*   *   *

Take a low-gravity planet ocean world. Give it a single subcontinent with a ragged coast. Throw in two large-ish moons to complicate tidal patterns. What you wind up with are the most powerful, most dangerous waves in the Galaxy—and the most challenging surfing competitions ever. This is Thalassa, sole habitable planet in the Procyon system. On Thalassa ordinary waves are as high as tsunamis on Earth . . . and tsunamis are unimaginable. And strange, savage creatures prowl unknown depths.

Sage Thompson, native Hawaiian and pro surfer, has always had a love/hate relationship with oceans. A dozen years ago her astronaut father met his death in the world-girdling seas of Thalassa. To honor his memory she started competing in surfing competitions in the waters around Hawaii. In a few years she was one of the most successful and popular pro surfers in the world, with millions of fans following her career on social media. The ocean, it seems, had shown her a path to overcoming her grief at last.

Then came the accident, when the ocean nearly claimed her life and devastated her career. Shaken, uncertain, she wonders if she’ll be able to recover. At this point her greatest rival, a surfer named Milo, challenges her to an ultimate competition on the waves of Thalassa.

Sage accepts the challenge as a way to win back her standing, her career, and her fans. But on Thalassa she discovers something worth more to her. The natural music of Thalassa compels her to defend the world against those who would exploit and despoil it.

Brian Tissot is marine ecologist, Director of Humbolt State University’s marine lab in California, and a life-long surfer. In Songs of Thalassa, his first novel, he blends cutting-edge oceanography, marine biology, Hawaiian culture, and music into a delightful hard-SF tale sure to join the ranks of fine water worlds.

*   *   *

The Vanished Seas
Catherine Asaro
Baen, 335 pages, $16.00 (trade paperback)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $6.99 (ebook)
ISBN: 978-1-9821-2471-7
Series: Skolian Empire: Major Bhaajan 3
Genre: Noir SF, Psychological/Sociological SF

*   *   *

Catherine Asaro continues exploring the underbelly of her baroque, decadent Skolian Empire with this latest adventure of Major Bhaajan, private eye to the highest nobility. The two previous titles, Undercity and The Bronze Skies, introduced Bhaajan: a child of the Undercity slums on the Empire’s capital world of Raylicon, who escaped into the military and successfully worked her way up the ranks. Retiring, she returned to Raylicon as a private investigator for the royal House of Majda, this time moving in the high society circles of the City of Cries—while maintaining her roots in the Undercity.

This time around, Bhaajan and her associates are faced with the disappearances, one by one, of high-ranking nobles. The trail, as she suspects, leads to the depths of the Undercity—where there’s little love for the ruling elites, and where everything, even kidnapping, is available for the right price.

Before long Bhaajan is dodging murder attempts, nefarious characters, and intricate plots of power and revenge. To find the answer and escape with her life, Bhaajan will need all her wits, all her firepower, and every friend she has . . . plus a few enemies.

It’s a story full of intrigue, mystery, and action. Along with Asaro’s trademark deeply human characters and intricate politics comes a noir-flavored plot that drips with menace and secrets. Major Bhaajan is a compelling character, smart and sympathetic, and both the squalid Undercity and the decadent City of Cries are engrossing.

Those who are familiar with the Skolian Empire will find much to like here. For those who aren’t, the Major Bhaajan books make a fine jumping-on point to this vast and convoluted universe.

*   *   *

Cosmic Corsairs
Edited by Hank Davis and Christopher Ruocchio
Baen, 321 pages, $16.00 (format)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $6.99 (ebook)
ISBN: 0978-1-9821-2478-6
Genre: Adventure SF, Reprint Anthologies, Space Pirates

*   *   *

Who doesn’t like space pirates? (Well, their victims I guess, but that’s beside the point.) Rogues and thieves, freedom fighters and dashing heroes, derring-do and swashbuckling action in the far reaches of space beyond the reach of law and order. What’s not to like?

Hank Davis and Christopher Roucchio have put together an anthology that’s two-thirds classic SF stories and one-third brand-new yarns, all involving the scurviest, most dastardly pirates to cruise the spacelanes.

Between these covers are fifteen stories by seventeen authors, including such names as Elizabeth Bear, Gregory Benford, James Blish, Fritz Leiber, Katherine MacLean, Larry Niven, James H. Schmitz, and Robert Silverberg. The oldest story (Fritz Leiber’s “They Never Come Back”) is from 1941; the most recent—beyond the five seeing first publication here—is 2016’s “Breaking News regarding Space Pirates” by Brian Trent. Only one story was published in Analog: “Redeemer” by Gregory Benford (in the April 1980 issue, to be precise)—so even very long-time Analog readers will find plenty that’s fresh.

Hank Davis has a fine sense for choosing a wide mix of stories, and this book is no exception. No story is like another, yet they manage to form a whole greater than the parts. From sapient ships to piratical sibling rivalry, pirate detectives to ingenious captives seeking freedom, from alien biology to orbital mechanics, the stories share some of the same elements—pragmatic thinking, moral complexity, loyalty, and betrayal.

Definitely a fun one.

*   *   *

Braintrust: Requiem
Mark Stiegler
LMBPM, 542 pages, $18.99 (hardcover)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $4.99 (ebook)
ISBN: 978-1-6420-2796-9
Series: Braintrust 5
Genre: Near-Future SF, SF Thriller

*   *   *

The saga of the Braintrust comes to an end in this fifth book of Marc Stiegler’s near-future geopolitical thriller series. It’s been a fun ride, and in Braintrust: Redemption the fun comes to a satisfactory climax.

To review briefly: Some years ago, the U.S. President For Life turned the country against both immigration and technology. Led by scientist-administrator Dyah Ambarawati (aka Dash), the world’s leading researchers and technicians retreated to an artificial archipelago of linked ships in international waters, which became known as BrainTrust. In time, other BrainTrust fleets were established near Europe, Africa, and China.

As most of the world fell under the control of authoritarian oppressors, the BrainTrust worked to preserve and expand the technological infrastructure that keeps the planet functioning.

In then previous book, Ode to Defiance (reviewed here in the November-December 2019 issue), Dash and her associates successfully defeated the terrorist threats of virulent plague and nuclear armageddon. Now, in the wake of that defeat, the world’s economy collapses. Rapidly, the planet descends into misery deeper than that of the Great Depression.

Dash and BrainTrust have a solution—a new type of currency that promises not only to rescue the world economy but to eliminate the endless boom-and-bust cycles that have destroyed civilizations of the past.

There’s just one problem: the authoritarian powers don’t want the economic problem solved. They want to hang onto their wealth and power, and they’ll stop at nothing to preserve the status quo. Including destroying the BrainTrust.

Three allied fleets converge on the archipelago. Alone, each has more firepower than used in the worst wars of history. Together, they are all but unstoppable. For Dash and the geniuses of BrainTrust, only a miracle could save the day.

Fortunately, they have some miracles in stock . . . but do they dare use them?

A superb end to a thrilling saga.

Incidentally, all five BrainTrust books have been issued in a new Kindle-only e-book omnibus for $9.99—a pretty good deal if you haven’t yet had the pleasure.

*   *   *

Anthems Outside Time: and Other Strange Voices
Kenneth Schneyer
Fairwood Press, 372 pages, $18.99 (trade paperback)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $5.99 (ebook)
ISBN: 978-1-9338-4692-7
Genre: Short Fiction Collections

*   *   *

If Ursula K. Le Guin had collaborated with Philip K. Dick and Frederic Brown, the result might have been the stories of Kenneth Schneyer. Blending lyrical language, surrealism, and gut-punching emotional impact with wide-ranging intellectual curiosity, Schneyer writes tales that can best be described as reader-participatory; he invites the reader to shoulder a good part of the burden of creation.

As SF readers we’re used to this; we’re accustomed to piecing together background worlds and histories from details an author chooses to include in a story. Plenty of Schneyer’s pieces follow this pattern; it’s just that his societies and situations are often more bizarre or absurd than usual.

When he’s really on a roll, as in what Schneyer calls “found documents” stories, the reader gets only a fragment of a fictional user agreement, art exhibition program, or professional qualifying exams. From clues in the text, it’s up to the reader to reconstruct the whole of background, character, and plot.

This sort of thought-intensive work isn’t for everyone, and I don’t want to give the impression that all twenty-six stories in this collection require intense cognition. The majority of them are quite accessible to the average Analog reader. In fact, three originally appeared in these pages: “The Whole Truth Witness” (October 2010), “Life of the Author Plus Seventy” (September 2013), and “Keepsakes” (November/December 2017). The others run the gamut of genre venues: Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, various original anthologies, and elsewhere.

The collection is subtitled And Other Strange Voices for a reason. Schneyer’s voice is delightfully strange and offbeat, and he’s on the cutting edge of what SF is up to these days. The reward is well worth any effort it takes.

*   *   *

The Last Human
Zack Jordan
Del Rey, 433 pages, $27.00 (hardcover)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $12.99 (ebook)
ISBN: 978-0-4514-9983-7
Genre: Clarke’s Law, Humorous SF

*   *   *

Zach Jordan is a video game developer and indie musician (search under his professional name, U. S. Killbotics). With The Last Human, he also joins the ranks of Douglas Adams, Jasper Fforde, and Terry Pratchett as one of the funniest authors to come along in a quite a while.

In a far-future age, in a universe of miraculous technology, Sarya believes she is the only human left. She doesn’t advertise the fact: humans are feared throughout the Galaxy, the species eradicated long ago for reasons Sarya has never fully understood.

Living among scores of alien species on Watertower Station, Sarya keeps her identity secret and just tries to blend in. The effort is made difficult by her alien foster mother, who has a habit of accidentally disemboweling their neighbors.

Then one day a bounty hunter shows up, and Sarya’s precariously peaceful life is turned upside down. Due to one thing and another, she finds herself in charge of a stolen starship, allied with a death-obsessed immortal android, a spacesuit that’s all too sapient, and a fluffball with an intelligence almost beyond measure.

A Sarya and her new friends flee, she discovers that everything she knows—from the extinction of humanity to her current pursuit—is all part of an intergalactic game played by aliens so powerful that they might as well be gods. And even worse, these demented gamers are offering Sarya a chance to escape the game and become a competitor herself . . . with the stakes being a second chance for the human race to live.

A house of cards like this could easily come crashing down all over the reader’s lap, but have no fear. Jordan has the skill to make the most madcap characters and situations relatable and believable. Jump aboard and buckle your crash harnesses; it’s a wild yet enjoyable ride.

*   *   *

Today I Remember and Other Tributes
Martin L. Shoemaker
WordFire Press, 268 pages, $24.99 (hardcover) $14.99 (format)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $4.99 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781-6805-7-025-0
Genre: Short Fiction Collections

*   *   *

Martin L. Shoemaker is no stranger to Analog. His stories have appeared fairly frequently, notably his Captain Nick Aames series and, most recently, “On Her Shoulders” in the September/October 2019 issue. I reviewed his robot novel, Today I Am Carey, here in the March/April 2018 issue.

Today I Remember is a collection of eleven short pieces ranging across SF, fantasy, and magical realism. None of them are among Shoemaker’s Analog stories, so this will be fresh territory for many readers. Each of the stories, Shoemaker explains, was written with a particular person in mind. In a short introduction to each tale, he talks about the circumstances of its composition and the person or people who inspired it.

There’s plenty of variety here. “Il Gran Cavallo” is the story of Leonardo da Vinci’s invention of an ultimate war machine—and its dreadful consequences. In “The Vampire’s New Clothes,” a twenty-first-century Count Dracula relies on a dimwitted servant to prepare for a meeting with his greatest enemy. “Bookmarked” is a tearjerker about early experiments in an old SF trope, recording the memories and personality of a dying person in order to transfer them to a new body.

In his non-writing life Shoemaker is a programmer. Many of these stories recall the thought-experiment tales of Campbell Age SF, when a short story was a vehicle for examining a scientific or philosophical problem. The difference is that Shoemaker populates his stories with fully dimensional characters whose emotions are as much a part of the story as the abstract principles involved. I wouldn’t recommend reading cover to cover in one or two sittings; you’ll want to take some breaks to ponder and, sometimes, to recover your composure.

*   *   *

City Among the Stars
Francis Carsac (translated by Judith Sullivan & Margaret Schiff)
Flame Tree Press, 232 pages, $24.95 (hardcover)
$14.95 (trade paperback)

iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $6.99 (ebook)
ISBN: 978-1-7875-8424-2
Genre: Psychological/Sociological SF

*   *   *

Francis Carsac is a pen name for French geologist and archaeologist Francois Bordes (1919-1981). After fighting in the French Resistance during World War II, Bordes turned his hand to writing science fiction. Between 1954 and 1975 he published six well-regarded SF novels and quite a number of short stories under the Carsac name. A few more stories and another novel, written in 1945, were published posthumously.

All of the Carsac works were published in French and then translated into Russian and a number of other Eastern European languages. For some reason the U.S. and British markets missed them entirely—could there have been some kind of complicated Cold War rationale? There’s little information about Carsac available in English, and if this book has one drawback it’s that Flame Tree Press didn’t include more than the most cursory details. I found myself wanting an introduction or afterword of at least a few pages giving more background.

In any case, The City Among the Stars is a perfectly entertaining story of wartime intrigue and the struggle for freedom. Tankar Holroy is a Lieutenant in the Stellar Guard, proud of his service to the Earth Empire. When his ship is sabotaged, he’s left stranded in space until a gigantic ship swoops down to rescue him.

Tankar finds himself an accidental guest of the People of the Stars, a space-based people who lives on such great ships and only rarely visit the surface of planets.

As one of the despised “planetaries,” Tankar is treated with barely disguised hostility aboard the ship. The only person who’s kind to him is a woman named Ortena.

Soon Tankar learns that the only reason the People of the Stars rescued him was in hope of acquiring the Empire’s technology of tracing ships through hyperspace. This technology that the People lack is key to defending themselves against their enemies.

Tankar, as an Empire officer, is totally familiar with the tracing technology—but rebelling against the treatment he’s received, he refuses to give it to the People. Until that is, circumstances force his hand.

Reminiscent of Poul Anderson, Gordon Dickson, and Leigh Brackett, Carsac is a good storyteller and The City Among the Stars is a fun tale set in an interesting culture. We can only hope that more translations of Carsac’s work are in the pipeline.

*   *   *

Mamelukes
Jerry Pournelle (with contributions by David Weber & Philip Pournelle)
Baen, 589 pages, $25.00 (hardcover)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $9.99 (ebook)
ISBN: 978-1-9821-2462-5
Series: Janissaries 4
Genre: Military SF

*   *   *

The late Jerry Pournelle’s Janissaries series consisted of three novels: Janissaries (1979), Janissaries: Clan and Crown (1982), and Janissaries III: Storms of Victory (1987). They chronicled the adventures of a group of American Cold War mercenaries, led by Rick Galloway, who were kidnapped by aliens and taken to the stars as slave labor.

In the multi-species Confederation, many human slaves have worked their way into administrative positions, much like the Janissaries of the Ottoman Empire. But Galloway and his people have a different fate: they’re dumped on the secret world Tran to raise, process, and transport a plant that yields one of the most powerful illegal drugs in the Confederation. Only at this point in their 600-year life cycle do the plants give the best results. In a few decades, when the peak passes, Galloway knows that the aliens will destroy the population to hide their secret.

Every so often over the past twenty years or so, there would be rumors of a fourth Janissaries novel in preparation. With each round of reports, the book seemed to be getting longer, but no nearer to completion.

After Dr. Pournelle’s death in 2017, his son Philip took on the work of finishing the novel. He was assisted by the legendary David Weber. And now, at last, the final Janissaries book is in our hands.

It’s been thirteen years since Galloway and his people were kidnapped. In that time, they’ve done their best to advance technology among the human slaves, preparing for the inevitable time when the aliens come to destroy them. Now the situation changes with the arrival of mysterious visitors with miraculous weapons. Even more, there’s news from the rest of the Confederation—news of a building revolt among the human administrators who keep the whole thing running.

If Galloway plays his cards right, he and his people may just come out of this in a good position. . . .

It’s a thick, meaty book of alien cultures, historical forces, military and political strategy . . . and one man determined to protect the people and things he loves. A fine capstone to the Janissaries series, well worth the wait (if not the circumstances).

*   *   *

The Shaman of Karres
Eric Flint & Dave Freer
Baen, 292 pages, $25.00 (hardcover)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $9.99 (ebook)
ISBN: 978-1-9821-2456-4
Series: Witches of Karres 4
Genre: Adventure SF, Humorous SF

*   *   *

When we last Captain Pausert and the Witches of Karres (The Sorceress of Karres, reviewed in the January/February 2012 issue), the galaxy was still feeling the ripples of Pausert’s rescue from slavery of the three psi-powered little girls Maleen, Goth, and the Leewit. Maleen is happily married, and Pausert is settling in with Goth, but there’s still the question of what will happen to the now-adolescent Leewit. And, of course, there are all the enemies he’s made in the course of his adventures with the girls. The big shipping houses, the Empire, his home planet . . . and the mysterious agents of the Worm World.

Circumstances land Pausert and his charges in a culture that not only keeps slaves but alters them so they’re happy in chains. But before he can cope with the slavers, there’s a long-lost alien pet to track and recover. As events proceed, the Leewit’s healing powers grow stronger . . . and so do the dangers around them.

This latest adventure of Pausert and the Witches is full of all the whimsy, derring-do, and absurd hijinks that you’d expect. I dare any reader to get through ten pages without smiling.

And now, I do believe I’m out of space. Stay dry, and see you next time.

Don Sakers is the author of the Rule of Five serial at http://donsakers.com/ruleof5/ and A Cosmos of Many Mansions, a collection based on previous columns. For more information, visit http://donsakers.com/sw/.

 

Copyright © 2020 Don Sakers

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