Friday, January 29, 2016

The Lawyers of Mars by Pam Uphoff

I have to wonder if the title of this book, though appropriate, wasn't initially conceived as a parody of the Burroughs John Carter series, as in Fighting Man of Mars, Warlord of Mars, Princess of Mars, etc. The book is actually three related novellas about a race of Martians which once existed (16mbillion years ago?) on the Red Planet when it still had water and enough atmosphere to sustain life. The funny thing is that their society seems very much like our own modern technological society, with a few twists.

I'm fairly certain that the names of many of the "Martian" characters in the book, if pronounced correctly, would be quite punny or ironic; one I easily spotted was Orton N'drea (Andre Norton) a science fiction writer. I'll leave it to other readers to puzzle out a few more.

The lead character, Xaero, is a lawyer in the family firm, assigned to defend an accused REM (Red Ever Mars - like Earth First?) terrorist in court. When her assistant is captured after he foolishly decides to tail the acquitted criminal, she undertakes a rescue on her own, and gets into a comedic caper filled with incompetent crooks and Bond-ian villains.

In the second novella, she and her allies outwit a time-traveling mad scientist, and in the third she journeys to a Jurassic period Earth with a group of scientists trying to mine uranium to sustain Mars' faltering energy resources.

Not deep, but fun for an evening or two.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Spell Blind by David B. Coe

I had never previously read any of David Coe's books, so this first book in his most recent series served as a good introduction. When one does this, it is a bit dangerous, as you might assume that if this book is good, then all previous books will be good, too. However, the author may merely have hit his stride at this point in their career, or finally found the right genre and setting to tell the tale they were meant to. At this point I can only recommend this particular series as being worthwhile, though I may try to work my way backwards in time later on.

Justis Fearsson is a weremyste, a practitioner of magic who has certain inherited native abilities in that direction. Weremystes have a serious problem, though, in that when the moon is full- called a phasing - their magic goes out of control, and the experience is not unlike a psychotic episode, filled with hallucinations and delusions. Justis' father was a successful police detective at one time, until the effects caused by the phasing of the moon cost him nearly everything, and Justis is beginning to follow in his footsteps, having lost his job with the Phoenix PD, becoming a private investigator instead.

When a serial killer, known as the Blind Angel, who uses magic to burn out the eyes of his victims strikes against the daughter of a prominent politician, Justis' former partner, Kona Shaw, pulls him in to consult on the case, and he rapidly becomes deeply involved in trying to find the killer before he strikes again. Justis is helped in his journey by the spirit of a powerful Native American magician named Namid - these powerful ghost magicians are called runemystes, and are somewhat like guardian angels of the magical community.

Harry Dresden, he ain't, but Justis Fearsson is a pretty good wizard PI, and Coe delivers an amusing tale.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

So, of course, I couldn't resist the title of this book,obviously. It's a young adult novel, which is not my usual fare, but it wasn't bad. In a comic book inspired version of the future, random people have turned into Epics, beings with super powers, such as being bulletproof, having precognition, pirokinetics, flying or casting illusions, and so forth. As a Calvinist might suspect, with great powers come great corruption, and the Epics rapidly rule the cities of Earth with an iron fist. Every Epic, however, has one mortal flaw, a certain way they can be killed.

When the Epic named Steelheart rises to power, he eliminates everyone who may have any knowledge of his weakness, but he misses one small boy, David (something David and Goliath-ish here?), who watches his father and many others destroyed by the Epic, and devotes the rest of his life to discovering Steelheart's flaw, and investigating and recording the flaws of all of the other Epics he is aware of.

Eventually, David joins forces with the Reckoners, a group of ordinary humans who have begun a Quixotic quest to eliminate the Epics and return Earth to humans once again.If you accept the premise of corrupt superheroes appearing to rule the planet, the book is an entertaining, fast moving read.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Day Shift by Charlaine Harris

It hadn't been very long for me since I read the first book in this series, Midnight, Texas, so I didn't really need it, but Harris does a nice little cast call in the first few pages of the book, reminding us of all the dramatis personae we got to know in the first book. A large corporation has purchased the defunct hotel in town and are renovating it to turn it into a senior citizens transitional facility, with a few regular hotel rooms to rent to nearby tech workers, as well. Manfred and Fiji and Bobo and the rest of our friends gather gradually on Witch Light Road to watch the construction crews arrive, and the work begin. Nice touch.

The main plot of the story, however, results from an unfortunate incident related to Manfred's work. One of his clients, an elderly woman whose husband recently "passed on to the other side" dies suddenly during a reading, and the woman's paranoid son accuses Manfred of murdering her and stealing her jewelry, which she had hidden from her greedy offspring. Manfred and his friends attempts to discover the whereabouts of the missing treasure and the identity of the real murderer (it wasn't really natural causes after all) proceeds in a haphazard fashion, but eventually accomplishes at least one of those goals, with some surprising twists along the way.

There's more than one tie-in to the Sookie Stackhouse series here that all her fans will appreciate, and Midnight, Texas acquires a few new residents to keep things interesting. We also get the chance to learn some surprising things about various residents during our sojourn in the Lone Star state.

Time to put the next book on hold at the local library.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Hanged Man by P.N. Elrod

I'm not much of a historian, but I'm fairly certain that Queen Victoria did not, in fact, establish a secret corps of psychics to help her govern her empire, and to assist Scotland Yard investigations. However, P.N. Elrod takes the idea and runs with it rather well, producing a fun and entertaining tale, flavored with bits of darkness and drama.

Lady Alex is one of Her Majesty's psychics, called in to investigate the apparent suicide of a "snake oil" salesman, Dr. Kemp. She arrives to discover a number of irregularities in the crime scene which make it obviously a homicide, and to ascertain that some sort of supernatural entity may have been involved, before discovering that the victim is actually her own father, in mufti.

She is immediately removed from the investigation by her superiors, but the crime doesn't seem to want to let her go, and she very nearly becomes the next victim. Despite clear orders to stay out of trouble, she is simply not the type of person to sit quietly and wait for others in the psychic service to get results, and so she, and her bodyguard, Lieutenant Brook, seem to rush headlong from one frying pan into subsequent fires, while unraveling a plot that could shake the foundations of the British empire.

Rather looking forward to another installment, should Elrod choose to write some.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Saturn by Ben Bova

For a good many years, when I was in my teens, twenties and thirties, Ben Bova was at the forefront of the science fiction field, publishing many great novels which I eagerly read and collected. A couple of years ago, after a long hiatus, I began to read some of his recent books which I had missed, and enjoyed a couple of the earlier ones, but at some point Bova, quite frankly, just started "mailing it in". His books are no longer very creative, his plotting and characterization are weak and filled with the latest memes and clich├ęs, and Saturn was only able to hold my interest for about fifty pages before I gave up.

Another giant in the field is simply publishing on his laurels.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Midnight Crossing by Charlaine Harris

Now that Harris has finished with the Sookie Stackhouse novels, she's moved on to a new venue in the stories of Midnight, Texas. The story begins when a twenty-something Internet psychic, Manfred, with a touch of the real "sight" moves to a backwater town and meets a very odd assortment of residents. His landlord, Bobo, is the owner of a pawnshop which may have been around since Texas' founding, and who we find out eventually was a minor character in Harris' earlier series about the town of Shakespeare. His grandfather was a white supremacist who amassed a legendary hoard of weapons. To this day, militias around the country believe that Bobo knows what happened to that stash.

The pawnshop is tended during the nighttime hours by a vampire named Lemuel, who has definitely been around for a long time, and some of his clientele are definitely on the eerie side. He has a "girlfriend" named Olivia, whom I assume is some sort of vampiric human servant, or Renfro, who is quite a handy person to have around in a pinch.

The girl next door is Fiji, who is a practicing witch. She teaches classes and sells herbal concoctions out of her home which doubles as a shop and classroom, but she actually does have some supernatural powers, and her cat, Mr. Snuggly, has a few tricks up his...paws...too. There's the gay couple, Chuy and Joe, who run a combination salon and antique gallery, and the couple who own the only diner in town, Home Cookin', Madonna and Teacher. We have a family that runs the gas station and mini mart, Shawn, Creek and Connor, and Rev, a very different sort of preacher running the wedding chapel and pet cemetery.

When the body of a missing woman turns up, and some of the militia members hunting for Bobo's granddaddy's arsenal get feisty, things start to heat up, with some really surprising twists in this new mystery by Harris.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia

I'd have to consider this more of a dark fantasy than classic fantasy, perhaps as grim as some of Joe Abercrombie's novels, or Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastards series. At the same time, there's a certain element of post-apocalyptic fiction, as there are hints that the world was once much more technological before the "demons" came from outer space to attack mankind. It will be interesting to see how that all wraps up at the end of the series someday.

Asok is a Protector, one of a group of select warriors whose primary responsibility is to uphold the Law, and he has spent the last twenty years of his life becoming the ultimate fighter and executioner. He bears an ancestor blade named Angruvadal, a magical black sword that contains the memories of dozens of generations of warriors of his family who have borne it before him.

When the bearer of one of these blades dies, the blade itself usually chooses a successor from their bloodline, but there was a very different circumstance which occurred when Angruvadal's previous owner died. None of the warriors who came to touch the blade were acceptable to it, and it either forced them to wound or kill themselves, depending on how unworthy the blade felt they were, until at long last, a casteless boy, lowest of the low, whose job was to scrub the blood from the stone floors of the room where the sword was kept, touched it and was chosen. This, of course, was a disgraceful thing to happen in the eyes of the upper castes, so they determined that none would ever know of this dishonor, and they slaughtered the boy's entire family, then pretended he was one of their heirs all along, when they sent him to train to be a Protector - an apprenticeship with a very high fatality rate - in hopes that when he was killed in the training, the blade would return to their family and honor would once again be restored. Their wizard altered the boy's memories so he would never realize that he'd been born casteless, and all was well - for a time.

But Asok survived the training and went on to become one of the most fearsome Protectors ever known, until the day when his memories were restored, and he discovered his true beginnings. He returns to the House which had adopted him and killed his real family, and executed the matriarch of the clan, who had hatched the plot, then turned himself in as a criminal. During his time in jail, political plotting by the high castes, combined with an uprising by the casteless creates a situation where Asok is compelled to undertake a hazardous quest, and encounter his true destiny.

Great battles, complicated plotting, and a tortured hero. What's not to love?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Solar Express by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

You know, I've read a ton of Modesitt's novels over the years, starting with his Recluse saga, moving on to some of his standalone science fiction, back to a longer series with the Imager portfolio...and I've generally really enjoyed it, but I could not, after 150 pages, continue wasting my time reading this book. It should have been subtitled, "the least exciting book of alien invasion ever". The tale is told from the POVs of a space pilot, Chris, and an astronomer stationed on the lunar farside, Alayna, who became at least mildly attracted to one another on her voyage to the Moon.

I can't determine whether Modesitt was trying to capitalize on the success of Weir's The Martian, with his mind-numbing descriptions of antenna maintenance, or whether this is some old story he dusted off when the publishers demanded another 10K words for the sake of the contract. Just slap on a world ruined by global warming and Oila! nicely updated for the twenty-first century.

I also wonder if Modesitt's courting included discussions of obscure political subjects, cribbed from Machiavelli, but he's used the gimmick twice now. In the Imager series, it was cute the first time around between Quaeryt and Valera, but when it turns up again, I simply tuned it out.

I've read much better by Modesitt. I'll try not to lose heart.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross

The finishing pages of the last Laundry Files novel left Bob & Mo in a sticky wicket, relationship-wise, as the supernatural violin she carries wants to destroy the Eater of Souls which Bob is currently hosting, and they decided they could no longer live together, which was heart-wrenching for both of them, and also for us gentle readers.

The Annihilation Score takes up with a recap of those events, and moves on with a new point of view. Dominique O'Brien "Mo" tells the story, and we see and hear very little from our old friend Bob. 

Mo is tapped by The Laundry to head up a new quick response unit dedicated to handling the sudden onset of Superheros - ordinary human beings who suddenly gain supernatural powers, often resembling those of folks from the Marvel Comics universe, like super speed, strength, or flying. Mo is way out of her depth, here, but rapidly rises to the challenge, even when saddled with two new deputies - a mermaid and a vampire - both of whom were formerly Bob's lovers. Awkward.

Lots of adventure, bureaucratic intrigue and macabre conflicts ensue.