RECOMMENDED BOOKS

Jody Lynn Nye is the author of forty novels and more than one hundred stories, and has at various times collaborated with Anne McCaffrey and Robert Aspin. Her husband, Bill Fawcett, is a prolific author, editor and packager, and is also active in the gaming field.

 

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The Stars Now Unclaimed
by Drew Williams
TOR
August 2018
ISBN-13: 978-1250186119

To be honest, we were not sure at first we were going to recommend this book. The cover descriptions were rather generic. But then after getting a few chapters in, WOW. This book is a find. Not because of elegant prose, though it is competently written, but because Drew Williams can really tell a rip-roaring story that hardly lets the reader pause for breath.

The premise is that humans had settled on thousands of worlds, colonizing most of the galaxy over unknown millennia. At first, all had gone well, but gradually various sects with widely diverse and conflicting beliefs became dominant on many worlds. The once peaceful and high-tech galaxy began, at an accelerating rate, to tear itself apart. From minor conflicts, the battles had escalated until entire planets, or even solar systems, were being wiped out almost daily. Many felt humanity was on the verge of making itself extinct or nearly so.

One sect, Justified, was formed to solve the problem. They found a possible tech solution, a weapon that actively suppressed technology, and began to develop it. But before it could be tested, or even really finished, the Justified was attacked by a hostile space fleet. In desperation the Justified decided to try a prototype of their weapon. It worked, far too well. Instead of affecting one solar system, it spread undiminished across the Milky Way. Think of this weapon as a permanently active EMP blast that also continues to destroy new tech exposed to it and attaches itself to planets. The entire galaxy was swept over by “the Pulse” and thousands of civilizations collapsed. With that as the back story, we follow the adventures of a soldier and Justified agent who was born before the Pulse. Her job is to find and recruit mentally superpowered youths whose births were a side effect of the changes. Her main challenge is that a warlike sect known as the Pax has retained much of its tech and is determined to recruit and brainwash these youths themselves. She escapes with a young talent but receives an emergency call from another agent. In order to save her friend, the Justified agent finds herself up against a threat that is likely to wipe out Justified’s hidden home world.

The book comes in short, action-filled chapters and moves intelligently from suspense to combat to battle. Far more than half the chapters portray some form of military or personal action. Williams does an excellent job of bringing both the large picture and the effects of the crisis on those directly involved. A sarcastic ship’s AI and other deeply drawn characters add to your enjoyment. With something intriguing happening or building in every chapter, this is one of those books you will be reluctant to put down. Recommended for anyone who reads space opera, military science fiction, or just enjoys an action-filled, fast read.

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Privateer
by Margaret Weis and Robert Krammes
Tor Books
August 2018
ISBN-13: 978-0765381095

Privateer is the second book in the Dragon Corsairs series. The world has no oceans; rather their oceans are simply thicker air which forms a boundary beneath which you cannot breathe. There is just enough surface tension that a ship supported by gas balloons and magic can sail on them as we do the seas. There is also magic, dragons, pirates, wars, and lots of intrigue.

In this novel, Prince Thomas Stanford continues to tour the islands of his father’s realm and also those of his father’s enemies. He discovers that his love, Kate, who just happens to also be a pirate captain made famous by a hack writer who never met her, has been captured and sentenced to be hung. First Tom has to free her from the middle of a fortress filled with enemy soldiers, then escape an alerted city on gryphons, then recover a ship hidden on a distant island in order to save Kate’s trapped and suffocating crew. After that, the prince finds himself a pirate on his own seas.

The world is imaginative and unique. The characters well drawn and the swashbuckling action right out of a Captain Blood–era movie. But the real reason to read this series is that these books are just plain fun. These are set on the same fascinating world as the author’s Dragon Brigade novels, so if you like the world and writing, there are more books out there for you, but you don’t have to have read them to enjoy this new series.

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Zion’s Fiction: A Treasury of Israeli Speculative Literature
edited by Sheldon Teitelbaum and Emanuel Lottem
Mandel Vilar Press
September 2018
ISBN-13: 978-1942134527

Zion’s Fiction is a collection of stories written and centering on Israel in the future. The quality of the stories ranges from quite good to really exciting. This is hardly a surprise as the editors had literally thousands of stories to pick from in a country that is a hotbed of science fiction writing and publishing. Most are science fiction and a number, if written here, are classic, hard science fiction that would have been at home in Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine or John Campbell’s Analog.

Beyond being good reading, perhaps the greatest appeal of this collection is the insight its stories give into the mind and attitudes of a place that is, in many ways, similar to the USA (a democracy, modern, and industrial) and yet very different, as a nation under virtual siege for two generations. The stories are generally optimistic and reflect a faith in both the future and in mankind. A good read that can also be a somewhat thoughtful one. Recommended for those who like short stories, hard science fiction, and those who wish to expand their world view.

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The Finest Challenge
by Jean Rabe
Boone Street Press
April 2018
ISBN-13: 978-1732003613

The Finest Challenge is book three of Jean Rabe’s Finest trilogy. The creators of mankind saw we needed help, so they made their Finest Creations, which appear to humans to be elegant horses. But the Finest are intelligent, telepathic, can communicate with animals, and have a strong sense of morality. Each Finest, when trained and ready, forms a strong bond with one of those humans who has the greatest potential to do good or evil. But one young Finest has to rush into service before being fully trained. Set in a medieval world, these books are wonderfully different with unusual perspectives, good action, and characters you would like to meet. If you love horses or riding, they are a must. If you want to enjoy a different approach to a story full of nobles, villains, courts and combat then start with The Finest Challenge or look for all three books in the series.

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Avatar Dreams
edited by Kevin Anderson, Mike Resnick and Dr. Harry Kloor
Wordfire Press
April 2018
ISBN-13: 978-1614755999

The amazing, or maybe frightening, fact is that we may not be that far from the everyday use of avatars today. Technology is weaving into our lives in new ways every day. Augmented Reality, where the pixelated universe interacts with the real world, has become a popular reality with the massive game of Pokemon GO. The military is using a wide range of drones. A drone firing a hellfire missile in Afghanistan is likely under the control of a soldier sitting at a control panel in the Midwest USA. Already psychologists are decrying younger generation’s preference for sitting at their computer or preferring to use their phone to actually traveling or interacting. If things continue as they are today, then Avatar Dreams gives us a look at what could be the near future. The stories all focus on humans using their avatars in many different ways including entertainment, mountain climbing, rescues and sports. All are well written, as you might expect with short story guru Mike Resnick doing the editing. (Full disclosure here: the co-author of this review column, Jody Lynn Nye, has the wrap story in this volume, so this is Bill writing this review.) The technology is all plausible, thanks to Dr. Kloor, a leader in the field, and that adds to the stories’ impact. You will easily be able to see yourself as part of the brave, new avatar-filled worlds. Thoughtful without taking away any of the fun, enjoyment, or even occasional humor.

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The Boy from Tomorrow
by Camille DeAngelis
Amberjack Publishing
May 2018
ISBN-13: 978-1944995614

This charming young adult book brings the reader a pair of twelve-year-olds, Alec Frost and Josie Clifford, who live in the same house one hundred years apart. Josie’s mother, Lavinia, is a noted oracle, who holds seances in the front room for a select clientele in 1915, and claims to speak to the spirits of the dead. Alec and his mother have just moved there in 2015 after his parents separated. Both children have difficult lives for very different reasons. Lavinia is selfish, secretive and abusive, cruelly isolating Josie and her younger sister, Cassie, from the rest of society. Alec is shy and introverted, finding it difficult to reach out to make friends in a new city.

They find one another, unexpectedly, through the use of a “speaking board” (i.e., Ouija board) that remains in the house. At first, Alec and Josie believe the other to be a spirit, but come to understand the truth, and become friends across the separation of a century. Alec is all too aware that he and his new acquaintance will almost certainly never meet in person, but he comes to enjoy the friendship, telling Josie all about the world of the future. Josie tells him about her life and the history of the house.

But all does not run smoothly. The secret, on both ends of history, comes out, threatening to ruin the bond between the children. Alec himself is betrayed by a jealous schoolmate, making him want to retreat from his new school. Lavinia, keen to keep her primacy as the foreteller of important events, discovers her daughter’s conversation with a boy from the future, and holds the board hostage, demanding facts about the future in exchange for letting Alec have access to his friend.

Both children are resourceful, though, and manage to maintain a relationship that will surprise and delight the reader. Alec is reluctant to find out the fate of his friends but picks up clue after clue that lead him to a marvelous, though realistic conclusion. Apart from the means of communication between the children, there are no miracles in this story, but it is a very good read. Recommended for young adults twelve and up (there is some discussion of death) and curious adults who wonder how they would handle a friendship with someone who lived a century away.

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Low Chicago
edited by George R. R. Martin
Tor Books
June 2018
ISBN-13: 978-0765390561

The Wild Cards series are shared-world anthologies that have been published for literally three decades. They are noted for quality writing and fascinating characters. We have recommended another Wild Cards book in an earlier column and are not surprised to find ourselves doing it again. Most of the main characters in this long-running series of anthologies are “Aces.” Just after World War II ended an alien virus spreads around the world. Most people are unaffected or die, but a few “draw the Ace” and are changed. For many this involves often painfully developing a single superpower.

In Low Chicago, a group of Aces and rich elites gather for a high stakes poker game at the Palmer House hotel on the city’s lakefront. Most are accompanied by their Ace bodyguards. Then an accident by a waitress escalates until one of the Ace’s instinctively exercises his power to shift things into the past. In this case a room full of spoiled rich types and their Aces each find themselves alone and naked in 1929. Their problem is to survive and figure out a way to get home. However, having knowledge of the future, they immediately begin changing history.

Low Chicago follows each of those thrown back into time as they search for the time-shunting Ace and his partner to be returned to the future. The problem is that to return to the time stream they know, each discovers that they have to undo the changes they created, even if it means allowing the lives of those they have saved to be lost.

One Ace thrown back into the past is the bodyguard, Kahn. He is literally half cat (the left half) with feline strength, reflexes and instincts. Just to survive, Kahn takes a bodyguard job protecting the mobster Bugs Moran from Al Capone. To get the job, the Ace proves himself by preventing the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, but then finds himself fur-deep in a mob war. Another time refugee joins what was a very active silent movie studio movement in Chicago in the ’30s. Using the successes of the future as a model for their own moving pictures, he becomes a real success. Based upon their nature and gifts, every Ace has to deal with the fact that they are in a time before the virus and no one understands what they are.

Time paradoxes, moral dilemmas and superpowered Aces all blend beautifully. As a resident of the city, I can even attest that the authors get the gritty and bloodthirsty feel of mob-driven old Chicago correct. Low Chicago is so much fun I can almost forgive Mr. Martin for not working on the next Game of Thrones novel instead of editing it. On a very positive note, while the details have not been released, it appears that a studio owned by NBC is working on a Wild Cards TV series. If you have not yet started the book series, you have a great treat and lot of reading to look forward to. Feel free to start with this collection. If you are already one of the many Wild Cards fans, this is another great book you will enjoy.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Jody Lynn Nye and Bill Fawcett