Jun. 17th, 2016

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What delight! An entire anthology devoted to modern reimaginings of those glorious old school planetary romances, set on that long-lost imaginary planet of fetid swamps and humid jungles, of thickly overcast skies dripping hot rains, of slimy and slithery things that flourish in the warm, damp dimness, of scaled and webbed amphibious denizens of vast blood-hot oceans, and the ruins of ancient decadent civilisations overrun by thick, lush vegetation - the Venus of my youth, destroyed forever by the flyby of Mariner 2. Yes, I'm talking about George R. R. Martin and Garner Dozois' collaborative editorial effort, Old Venus.

It's a wonderful homage to the great pulp writers of planetary adventure, from Edgar Rice Burroughs and Otis Adelbert Kline to Leigh Brackett and C. L. Moore, a collection of stories with all the fast-paced action, adventure, and even at times terror of the originals, but infused with a modern, often post-colonial awareness. In many of these stories, lurking in the shadows behind the hard-boiled adventurer's narrative lies an acknowledgement of damage done by the bold colonising Earthmen, the exploitation of Venusian wealth and peoples, the question of who is the monster - the indigenous, adapted life form, or the alien writing the story. And in some, there is awareness of the hubris of the explorer, the belief that the indigenous peoples can not be as knowledgeable, even of the nature and history of their own world, as the ones who "discover" them. This is planetary romance, all grown up.

While all the stories have something to recommend them, I particularly enjoyed "Bones of Air, Bones of Stone," by Stephen Leigh, "Ruins," by Eleanor Arnason, "The Sunset of Time," by Michael Cassutt, "Pale Blue Memories," by Tobias S. Buckell, and "The Heart's Filthy Lesson," by Elizabeth Bear.

* This anthology contains 16 stories, 13 of which are written by men, and three of which are written by women

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In Dreaming the Hound, the third volume of Manda Scott's Boudica quartet, the focus of the narrative returns to Breaca and her brother Ban, also known as Julius Valerius.

Breaca has returned to her own people, the Eceni, with her children Cunomar and Graine, and her step-daughter Cynfa. Now married to the Eceni leader Prasutogas, a client-king of Rome, she hides in plain sight from the Romans, who would gladly kill her if they ever connected the new queen of the Eceni with the war leader Boudica. Her goal is to build up an army of rebellion among the eastern tribes that have fallen under the sway of Roman authority.

Ban too has come home, in a sense, after several years spent avoiding both Romans and Britons on the island of Hibernia. In bringing a wounded young man he loves to the healers on Mona for help no one else can give, he finds in himself the desire to at last fulfill his gifts as a dreamer - and on Mona a dreamer willing to teach a former traitor how to dream.

But the Roman drive to control all of Britain continues. In the lands of the Eceni, the Roman governor authorises the work of slavers, who carry an offer to the Eceni king to relieve all the tribal debts in return for Graine and Cynfa. Breaca and Prasutogas' responses to this insult set in motion the path to the inevitable resumption of war against Rome. And in the West, governor Suetonius Paulinus marches toward Mona.

Again, Manda Scott weaves another chapter in this powerful historical fantasy series around the few facts known about the Roman treatment of the tribes of Britain and the uprising of the Iceni under Queen Boudica.

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Elizabeth Peters's novel The Murders of Richard III impressed me as being just the thing for reading when in need of light entertainment and amusement. So I tried another book in the same series, The Seventh Sinner, to see if the impression held. And it did.

Featuring librarian-sleuth Jacqueline Kirby again, this novel is set in Rome, among a small group of young research fellows and other advanced foreign students at an international institute for the study of art and architecture. Kirby herself is on a working vacation, improving her CV with an eye to an classics-related opening at her workplace back in the US.

The historical hook here is the remarkable architectural history of Rome, with particular emphasis on the history of Christian buildings, from secret underground churches and catacombs dating back to the early days of Christianity in Rome, to the proliferation of churches devoted to the saints - which leads to a delightful sidedish of hagiographic tidbits.

The murder mystery to be solved focuses on the eccentric theories of one of the young scholars of hagiocentric archeology, and in the process of solving it, Kirby leads us on a wild ride through the underbelly of academe.

I think i'm going to enjoy the rest of Peters' oeuvre.


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