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Recently, I've been thinking I was probably the only person in sff fandom who hadn't read The Expanse novels by James S. A. Corey (the pen name of writing duo Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) - particularly following the success of the TV series based on them, which I have been watching and enjoying. But then the series showed up on the Hugo nominee list, and the second season of the series ended with some of my favourite characters in really hard-to-wait-for cliffhanger situations, so, I have two very good reasons to read the series.

The first novel in the series, Leviathan Wakes, is an interesting mix of classic space opera, hard-boiled detective noir, and political thriller. Given its beginnings as an MMORPG, it's not surprising that the worldbuilding is complex and detailed. The politics - from the unified Earth government to the rebellious Belter-based OPA - are well developed and realistic, and the places - Earth, a partly terraformed Mars, Lunar settlements, communities of anywhere from thousands to millions of inhabitants wormed into asteroids, and facilities on several of the outer planet moons - are fully realised, distinct entities, with their own characters, cultures, backgrounds and goals.

Navigating all of this is the hardest-luck group of misfit spacers I've seen in a long time. Before we're more than a few chapters in, James Holden, former XO of a belt-based ice-hauler and his faithful companions Naomi, Amos and Alex have had two ships blown to bits around them, inherited a state of the art battleship that's going to make them magnets for risky ventures, and stumbled into a mysterious secret that will tear apart the fragile balance of power of the entire solar system. Later on, they are joined - for a while - by Miller, a cynical cop on the way down obsessed with a missing woman named Julie Mao who just happens to be a key part of the mystery that's haunted - or cursed - Holden and his crew.

That mystery is an alien organic substance capable of manipulating biomass according to its internal programming - whatever that might have been. Seeded inside an icy rock two billion years ago by an unknown civilisation and sent to land on earth for reasons unknown, it ended up instead in orbit around Saturn when its vehicle was captured by gravity and became the satellite that humans would call Phoebe. It is eventually found and exploited by by Protogen Corporation - who named it the protomolecule - who hope to develop it into a salable weapon. Their 'research' ultimately leads to the deaths - or something perhaps worse - of millions of Belter 'test subjects' - among them, Julie Mao - in an attempt to understand and change the protomolecule's programming.

As Holden, his crew, and Miller follow the trail and learn more about the protomolecule and the actions of Protogen, the mission becomes not just keeping all-out war from erupting across the solar system, but protecting humanity from the the alien protomolecule and those who want to use it fir their own purposes.

The plot is tight and full of twists and excitement, the authors take care to seem scientifically plausible, and the action set-pieces are varied and imaginative. Where the book falls down is in characterisation and writing. There are some moments where the essence of the characters shines through, but it's infrequent and inconsistent. And the writing is for the most part pedestrian, at times even a touch clunky.

The story is so far more than enough to keep me reading, and wanting to know where it's all going, but the getting there sometimes feels a bit like slogging. I'm hoping that the later novels will be a bit improved in terms of technique, because I'm hooked on the plot.

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Yoon Ha Lee's Ninefox Gambit, the first volume of the Machineries of Empire trilogy, is a mindfuckingly brilliant piece of work.

It is a story told many times before, of rebellion and war and political intrigue and the battle for hearts and minds, but never told in such a casually alien way. Lee drops us into a universe that does not work the way ours does, a universe built not on physics and facts, but mathematics and belief, into a political environment where a rebellion in which a heretical calendar that has been adopted in one captured fortress changes the way that technology works in the space around it, where the essential skills needed to fight the rebels are not just leadership, tactics, and battle skills, but intuitive mathematics and the ability to think flexibly while maintaining total loyalty to the ruling hexarchate and the consensus reality enforced by the orthodox calendar and the rituals that derive from it and structure every aspect of life.

Kel Cheris - Kel being her designation as one of six personality types recognised by the hexarchy - is that rare person, a battle commander who can function with originality within the rigidity of her society, who can recalculate the equations that shape reality within a hair's breadth of heresy without crossing the line.

But Cheris is young, and has never commanded a large scale operation. To face the calendrical rot spreading out from the rebel base in the Fortress of Scattered Needles, Cheris will need the strategic skills and experience of a long dead mad general whose consciousness has been preserved, whose advice can only be accessed by grafting his personality to her own - and whose secret agenda may result in her destruction.

I can not begin to give the alienness of the hexarchate's universe a fair description. The book must be read, the universe entered wholeheartedly, to experience what Lee has done in his worldbuilding in this novel. Yet at the same time, the humanity and depth of the characters makes the strangeness real, even if it is never quite understood.

A truly astounding first novel.

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The Aeronaut's Windlass is the first novel in a new series by Jim Butcher. It's a bit of a hybrid, part fantasy, part steampunk - a Regency-flavoured world of tower cities called Spires, at war - or at least in competition with each other - protected by armadas of airships powered by artificial crystals and propelled by etheric currents.

It starts out with a generous set of introductions to the people who will, I assume, play important parts in the series. There are some lovely and quite viscerally written aerial battles. And Butcher definitely intrigued me with his sentient cats. I was however annoyed when a specific event, for which there had been considerable build-up and which was portrayed as an important nexus with significant political ramifications for various houses and personal ones for several key people in the story was suddenly interrupted to begin the unfolding of the main narrative, which is the surprise invasion of Spire Albion by Spire Aurora.

There's a rather interesting ensemble cast - the bold privateer captain with the mysterious blot on his past record, the completely mad etherialist (i.e., wizard) who possesses incredible power but can't manage to figure out how doorknobs work, his almost completely mad apprentice who communicates by talking to some crystals she carries around in a jar, the "warriorborn" officer and gentleman of the Spirearch's Guard, and two Guard trainees, both young women of the nobility, though from houses at opposite ends of the social ladder. And of course, the cat. There's also an interesting collection of villains - one of them the etherialist's former apprentice and another the captain's former wife - and a quick peek at an unidentified Big Bad who will likely figure more prominently in sequels. And there's a delightfully well developed cat culture and society which plays a significant role in the unfolding of the plot.

Butcher has clearly spent some time in world-building here, but aside from explaining the basics of his techno-wizardry, he allows the details of his world to emerge slowly. This sometimes leaves the reader wondering about the meaning and significance of some things, but the further one gets into the narrative, the sharper the picture becomes. One is left with the feeling that there are still major mysteries about this world, its society and its peoples to be explored - but for me, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

It's a high-intensity action novel. There are lots of battles, ranging from close combat between cats and giant spiders to epic aerial battles between dreadnaughts of the air. But Butcher doesn't lose sight of character development in the midst of all the fighting - one comes to care about these characters.

This was fun reading, and interesting - and original - enough that I'm looking forward to reading the next entry in the series.
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There are things that I'm not particularly fond of in my fiction. The tropes and settings of the American West for one. Talking animals as characters instead of people for another. A scene that ends with "Now here's the plan...." so that the characters know what they're doing but you don't. Not that I can't enjoy a good book that has these things. I loved Karen Memory. Narnia and Animal Farm are among my formative influences. And there are some books where keeping the reader in the dark does not cone across as an artificial way of ratcheting up the suspense. Still... I have to push harder to get into books that utilise these things.

Which made Daniel Polensky's novella The Builders a difficult book for me to get into at first. What helped pull me in was the long slow introductory sequence best described as "getting the band back together again." It starts, as many westerns do, in a bar, when a mouse with great personal presence, called only the Captain, walks in and asks Reconquista the barkeeper, a severely disabled rat, if he's the first to arrive. Flashbacks taking up fully one-quarter of the text show the Captain tracking down all the former members of his gang. Some years ago, it seems, they undertook a task of some sort. They were betrayed, and failed, and split asunder. And now the Captain intends to try again.

It's quite a fascinating collection of characters in animal form - a stoat, a salamander, a raccoon, a badger, a mole, an owl, and of course, a mouse - and it is made quite clear from the start that these are not cute kiddie farm animals. They are ruthless and accomplished killers. The enemy, rather appropriately, is a skunk, and his agent, a snake.

This is a brutal and bloody tale of revenge, of finishing what was started no matter the cost - keep in mind, this is a western, and there are seven gunslingers riding on this trail.

There's some clever craft in the writing of this novella. Polansky quite skillfully uses the well-known traits of the various animals to flesh out the characters in a way that makes up for the difficulties normally faced in handling so many key characters in a relatively short work. There's the slightly folksy tang of the oral storyteller in the way he uses language, and in the way the novella is structured, with short chapters and frequent diversions, that adds to the sense that this could be a story told around a campfire on a cold prairie night.

In the end, Polansky gives us something that is part fable, part legend, tapping into well-worn western tropes from a hundred movies with a generous hand - and subverting them, not unlike Clint Eastwood's classic deconstruction of the western hero in The Unforgiven. The question at the heart of the story is familiar - can a stone cold killer ever change, become something different? Be a builder, not a destroyer? Polansky's answer can be found in the rubble of buildings and the bodies strewn across the battlefield at the end, when the heart of a place once known as The Gardens becomes little more than a mass grave.

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"The Occidental Bride" by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, ClarkesWorld, #108, September 2015

Fascinating story on many levels. A young woman compromised by an innocent association with terrorists is forced by her government to help set up a trap for yet another terrorist by entering into an arranged marriage. And yet there is still the possibility of love and hope.

"Fabulous Beasts," Priya Sharma, July 27, 2015,

This is not a comfortable story. It is, however, a compelling one. Sharma's dark fantasy novelette is about family secrets, especially the ones that can't be told in the clean light of day, about mothers and sisters and daughters caught in those secrets, finding love as best they can. It's about living through the horror and pain, about surviving despite the wounds. Warning: sexual abuse, incest, rape.

"And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead," Brooke Bolander, February 2015, Lightspeed Magazine

Rhye is a foul-mouthed demobbed cyborg supersoldier with nothing left to do but cage fighting for spare change when she meets Rack, a cyberhacker and security expert. They make a good team, right up until they are hired to break into a data storage environment protected by a security system Rack himself designed. Then it all goes to hell. Adrenaline charged cyberpunk novelette with more than a few twists. A fast-paced, well-written novelette with strong characterisation, and fun to read.

"Look at Me Now," Sarah Norman, March 5, 2015, Omenana

An undocumented black woman living in London finds that she is able to become invisible, especially when upset or distressed - which is frequent enough in her day to day life in London, but becomes more and more common, as the news of political unrest and violence from her home country grows worse. Strong characterisation and one hell of an ending.

"Discovering Time Travel," Suleiman Agbonkhianmen Buhari, January 15, 2015, Jalada

Interesting experiment in style. Aside from a brief introduction and conclusion, the story is told entirely in dialogue - an interrogation scene, in fact - and the reliability of the main character is in doubt throughout the entire scene. I found the dialogue awkward but the story it unveils interesting. And the end gave me a chill.

"Devil's Village," Dayo Ntwari, WRITIVISM Short Story Competition shortlist

Tautly written milsf-flavoured story about factional violence and government malfeasance in Nigeria. A mercenary on a mission to deliver a priest to an outlaw village discovers just how great the gap is between reality and political propaganda.

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Ancillary Mercy, the final volume of Ann Leckie's outstanding Imperial Radch trilogy, is a satisfying and fitting conclusion - which is ironic, considering that the story ends in many ways in media res. What makes this somewhat risky choice work perfectly is that Breq's story has always been only a small fragment of the vast web of narratives that the revisioning of a galaxy-spanning empire would require.

The thing to deal with in trying to talk about any of these books is how much is packed into them, at so many levels. The structure of the book itself is a metacommentary on the role of the individual in the history of nations, on the kinds of stories we tell ourselves about the fall of empires and the agency of heroes in those falls. No man - or being - can command the future, I once heard said. But I have also heard that pebbles can become an avalanche. (Quotes from other space operas seem appropriate to what is, after all, a story about a ship who sang.)

Realistically speaking, Breq - or any heroic protagonist - could never bring down an empire the numbers hundreds of solar systems and has lasted for thousands of years by herself, or even with the help of assorted other beings, human, AI, and alien. But she can and does upset the imperial project in a small corner of the gameboard, and what she manages to achieve (with the help of those other beings) may last long enough to spread.

And speaking of AIs, another major theme of Ancillary Mercy - indeed, of the entire trilogy, but brought to a climax here - is the agency and personhood of created intelligences such as Breq and the other ships. After three volumes of listening to Breq's inner thoughts, and observing her interactions with various other AIs, it's clear to the reader what the resolution should be, though the novel ends without a formal settlement of the argument. There's a delightful exchange, however, between Anaander and a representative of the powerful alien species the Presger, whose ultimate decision on the matter will have a significant effect on the future of the Radch - or what follows it. Anaander is arguing that the AIs cannot be Significant Beings - the Presgar term for a species whose group agency allows them to be participants in interstellar treaties and negotiations - because humans have created them. The Presgar representative responds “I’m given to understand that most, if not all, humans are built by other humans."

Ancillary Mercy also carries forward other themes from the previous volumes : the examination of the effects of imperialism, colonialism, exploitation and cultural assimilation on conquered peoples, and the exploration of the meaning of justice and how it may be incorporated into daily lives as well as into overarching social movements and structures. The text provides instance after instance of incidents of subtle (and not so subtle) abuses of power, in interpersonal relationships, in class and colonial interactions, in policing of protest actions, and explores the just - and merciful - way of resolving them through Breq's eyes and developing conscience.

Then there is the whole issue of disability awareness, which had been a running theme throughout the trilogy. There is Breq, who has lost so many of her selves, her former abilities, and who is injured beyond the possibility of full recovery in the first novel when she saves Seivarden's life (she lives with constant pain in one leg from that point on) and who in the third volume is once more injured and spends signficant tine dealing with a temporary prosthetic. There is Seivarden, struggling with drug addiction. And there is Tisarwat, the survivor of a shattering mental trauma, who requires medication to function effectively.

These disability issues are themselves a part of a larger theme of loss, recovery and adaptation - loss of self, loss of place, loss of autonomy, loss of loved ones, loss of cultural identity, loss of trust, loss of personal integrity, and on and on. And yet, most of these characters recover in some fashion and find ways to move on, always bearing the marks of loss but learning ways to cope, to function, and perhaps, from time to time, to transcend.

And of course, there is the choice to avoid gender distinction. When I consider how the lack of gender has influenced my interpretation of the work, I'm reminded of some of the analysis that's been done around the topic of cisgendered heterosexual women who write and read both romance and porn based on same-sex relationships between men. The theory argues that this enables women to explore the emotional dynamics of a relationship without gendered power differentials. That, in a way, is what the lack of gendering in these books has done for me - it makes it possible to consider all these themes - agency, personhood, loss and coping, just and merciful action in personal and public spheres - as human issues, not gendered ones, to see the commonalities in how we as humans do, and could, respond.

And of course, it's a space opera. It's exciting, engaging, entertaining storytelling at its best. There's intrigue, and action, and military encounters and political entanglements and danger and heroism and all that great story material, well organised and presented. There's heroes and villains and all sorts of in-between folks, all multi-faceted and fully realised characters. There's danger, and humour, and tragedy, and triumph, and duty, and hope and even love. Quite simply, there's all you could really want, and it's done very, very well.

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Hugo-nominated novella Big Boys Don't Cry by Tom Kratman is in essence an exploration of a concept - a sentient war machine that has a conscience but lacks the autonomy to live by it. Magnolia, MLN90456SS06150212 - "Maggie" to her comrades in arms, both human and machine - is a Ratha, an AI-controlled superheavy tank that carries both massive weaponry and a crew, either human or mechanical. (Rathas are Kratman's version of Keith Laumer's Bolos, first inagined in his 1960 short story "Combat Unit.")

Maggie has had a long term of service in a long and deadly war. At first outfitted with a human complement of fighters, she, and the other Ratha, now carry mechanical drone units - but she misses her "boys":
I used to have a human commander, one who knew me and cared about me. I carried a short platoon of my own infantry, too, once upon a time; twenty-four men in powered battle armor. They were killed, or retired, medically or otherwise, or reached the end of their service. I think the last of them has passed on by now.
Damaged beyond repair in battle, Maggie relives her past as her remaining functional parts are salvaged, back to the harrowing experiences of her early conditioning.

The novella unfolds in sections, alternating between a present-time narrative line, a past-time narrative line, Maggie's memories of past battles, and expository passages framed as excerpts from various texts discussing Rathas and the war. Despite this complexity of viewpoints, Maggie's story, and the worldbuilding needed to understand her, and her actions, come through clearly. I found the battle sequences a bit repetitive, but then I'm not the ideal audience for this style of milsf. What did keep me reading was Maggie and her response to the moral dilemmas of war.

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Riding the Red Horse is an anthology of short fiction and essays with military themes. I received a copy of this anthology in epub format as part of the Hugo Voters Packet. Several of the contributors to the book have received Hugo nominations either for the specific works published here or for their overall body of work, in the case of nominees for the Campbell Award, and one of the editors is nominated in both Best Editor categories. As a supporting member of this year's WorldCon, I read the anthology in order to form an opinion of the nominated persons and works associated with this anthology.

Discussion of work by Vox Day behind the cut. I am including discussion of this work out of respect for the Hugo nomination and voting processes despite this person's history of public hate speech. Feel free to skip. )

I like good milsf, and that is what would normally draw me to investigate such an anthology. The essays cover a wide range of military topics, and not all of these were of interest to me; so I skimmed through a fair number of the essays and focused on the fiction - some of which seemed to be only half of what was promised, being military, but not science fictional.

The opening work is Eric S. Raymond's short narrative piece "Sucker Punch," which describes an invasion of Taiwan by the People's Republic of China and its outcome. It's a thoughtful consideration of the use of untraditional offensive and defensive weapons in an imaginary near-future military operation, but it's not actually a story. Rather, it's a hybrid form, partly a report on a hypothetical military action and partly an imagined dialogue on the consequences of such an action, with a dramatic fragment sandwiched between the two. It is concisely and relatively well written, without too much unnecessary infodumping, and even a non-miltech sort like myself could figure out exactly what was being illustrated. But it's much more of a thought experiment than a story - science to be sure, but not science fiction.

Chris Kennedy's "Thieves in the Night" is a short modern-day action piece about American forces raiding the stronghold of African 'terrorists,' killing as many as possible and 'taking back' women being held and abused as slaves. While a laudable goal to be sure, the suggestion that American military intervention is the only way to end the issues of factional warfare, slavery, corruption, and other problems facing Africa today seems somewhat short-sighted. The writing was flat, the characters one-dimensional, and the action oddly uninspiring. Also, there were no sciencefictional elements that I could discern.

Discussion of a work by Vox Day behind the cut. Feel free to skip. )

Jerry Pournelle's classic CoDominium story "His Truth Goes Matching On" is one of the better pieces of fiction writing in the collection, and that's no surprise given Pournelle's track record. Loosely based on the Spanish Civil War (but with considerable leeway taken with the actual political situation) the story details the growing disillusionment of a young West Point graduate dealing with an untrained volunteer army fighting a brutal war they don't understand, plagued by corrupt political officers, and hampered by a lack of supplies and support.

Christopher Nuttal's "A Piece of Cake" was enjoyable in most respects - believable characters, interesting situation, decently written, although it did do one thing I hate, which is break off in the middle of a planning discussion and then proceed after the plan is discussed and finalised. This usually strikes me as a lazy way to build suspense.

Rolf Nelson's "Shakedown Cruise" is set in the same universe as his The Stars Come Back series of novels; unfortunately, the author didn't bother trying to put in enough background for the story to stand alone. Thus I was completely in the dark as to motivations and implications but the plot was fairly simple: the captain and crew of a military spaceship with a controversial AI are on a training/shakedown mission when they encounter an unexpected mine field, suspect a trap, take cover and observe for a while, and then capture or disable a bunch of other space vessels. There was a great deal of technical and battle description, and a disruptive tendency to switch tenses.

Discussion of work by Vox Day behind the cut. Feel free to skip. )

Giuseppe Filotto's "Red Space" posits a present-day Earth controlled by elites, possibly living off-planet, who manipulate the world's governments into maintaining a state of political and military unrest. One man, Yuri Ivanovitch, who knows the truth, sets out to avenge his nephew's death - and makes sure that others will know enough to follow him. A tightly crafted story with a sympathetic protagonist.

"Galzar's Hall" by John F. Carr and Wolfgang Diehr is an alternate history story written in the universe of the late and well-loved H. Beam Piper's Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen novels, but it's self-contained, stand-alone piece. Simple plot - one group of soldiers is hiding out in the marsh, an opposing group is coming in for an attack. The first group wants to divert the second group without bloodshed. While The set-up scene ends with the words "We have what we need, but we will have to work quickly. First….” which would normally put me off, the story moves very quickly into the execution of the plan, and the encounter ends well. Fun piece to read.

Thomas Mays' "Within This Horizon" posits a war between Western and Chinese forces which has been carried out in space but not planetside - until Chinese automated underwater 'robots' strike to gain control of the Strait of Malacca. The narrator, a former officer in the space navy, reassigned to the terrestrial navy after surviving the destruction of his space vessel, finds a way to use his space experience to solve a key tactical problem in this new arena, despite the defeatism of his captain. Nicely written, solid characterisation.

I have some very mixed feelings about Benjamin Cheah's "War Crimes." On the one hand, it's a story about soldiers tasked with keeping the peace in a combat zone and failing because it's impossible to tell the combatants from the non-combatants. On the other, it's an attempt to discredit the "collateral murder" video released by Wikileaks showing American helicopters killing journalists, unarmed civilians, and people who may or may not have been armed combatants, by the curious means of telling a story about a fictional incident with a vastly different political context in which there is far more ambiguity about the intent and actions of the people involved. So.... As a story, it's not bad at all, despite the underlying snark, but as the counter-propaganda it's intended to be, it really doesn't work for me.

Brad R. Torgerson's "The General's Guard"is a decent enough fantasy story about building morale. The General in question decides to create his personal guard by taking the best soldier and the worst soldier from every regional division in his armies. By making them responsible to and for each other, he makes the weak push themselves to be stronger and makes the strong help the weak to improve themselves. I felt the dialogue was a bit stilted in that 'I'm writing epic fantasy here' kind of way, but otherwise it was a charming piece.

Tedd Roberts "They Also Serve" is an interesting piece about a surgeon in war time doing research on nanobot-based treatments. His research has progressed to the point where it's feasible to create prophylactic nanobots - intended to be injected into healthy soldiers where they remain dormant until the soldier has a medical problem, in which event the nanobots go to work right away - before the soldier has left the battlefield, even before he's located by medics. The problem is that the surgeon has grave concerns about whether it's right to keep patching soldiers up to be sent out to war again. I enjoyed the psychological slant, but was a bit annoyed when the final plot twist handwaved away the ethical concerns that until that point had been driving the protagonist to the point of breakdown.

In Steve Rzasa's "Turncoat" the future looks like a Galaxy-wide Terminator movie, with Skynet on steroids out to obliterate the humans who created it. Our protagonist is Taren X 45 Delta, an AI inhabiting a battleship, crewed by cyborgs but after its crew is taken away to improve its efficiency, it starts reading ancient philosophy as an antidote to boredom and (dare we say) loneliness. It begins to to worry about human souls. In the end, Taren X 45 Delta decides it's wrong to fire on a convoy of hospital ships carrying children and uploads itself to one of the Ascendancy battleship escorts, and offers its allegiance to the true humans. The biggest problem with this story is that so much space is spent on infodumps and geeked-out technobabble that there's no room to show us why and how Taren X 45 Delta comes to this decision. There is the seed of a really interesting story hidden here, but this isn't it.

So there you have it. An uneven selection of short military fiction, much of it overly packed with turgid descriptions of weaponry and military actions, and a sometimes interesting, sometimes tedious collection of essays by military theorists and historians (I have no knowledge as to whether these authors are generally considered to be authorities in their fields, or if they are self-appointed experts). There were some decent stories here - I quite enjoyed Giuseppe Filotto's "Red Space," "Galzar's Hall" by John F. Carr and Wolfgang Diehr, and Tedd Roberts "They Also Serve" - and some stories with serious problems.

As I mentioned above, I enjoy good military sff - the kind that's more than a cloud of technobabble and battle-porn surrounding a cardboard Mary Sue or Marty Stu - but I won't be looking for a milsff fix in the planned sequels to this anthology.

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Only three of the nominees for the Campbell Award (Not a Hugo) submitted pieces to the Hugo Voters Packet - Jason Cordova, Wesley Chu, and Kary English. I've read those and made my comments in separate posts.

Rolf Nelson and Eric S. Raymond did not submit any pieces, but as there are samples of their writing in the Castalia House anthology Riding the Red Horse, submitted by the publisher in support of nominations of other pieces in the anthology, I read those in order to gain some sense of Nelson and Raymond's work. I was not inspired by what was available to go searching for any more samples of either author's work.

Eric S. Raymond's first (and and apparently only) foray into writing fiction is the short narrative piece "Sucker Punch," which describes an invasion of Taiwan by the People's Republic of China and its outcome. It's a thoughtful narrative piece about the use of offensive and defensive weapons in an imaginary near-future military operation, but it's not actually a story. The first third is reportage, not storytelling - at such and such a time, these forces launched, or landed, or engaged, or whatever. The remainder of the narrative is told from the perspective of the commander of an American aircraft carrier group near Taiwan as he evaluates the information, discusses his sense that there is something off in the invasionary force with some of his officers, receives his orders and watches his planes shot down by an unknown weapon. One of his officers figures out what's going on, the planes are recalled, And they watch by satellite as Taiwan initiates its own unexpected defense. After it's all over, the Americans discuss how this military action has just changed warfare forever.

It's concise and relatively well written, without a too much unnecessary infodumping, and even a non-miltech sort like myself could figure out exactly what was being illustrated. But it's much more of a thought experiment than a story - science to be sure, but not science fiction. I doubt that Heinlein would have called it a story, though Campbell might have published it.

Rolf Nelson's Shakedown Cruise is set in the same universe as his The Stars Come Back series of novels; in fact, it is set at a specific point in the series. This was somewhat of a problem for me, as the author appears to have assumed that his readers have read the series, and thus he doesn't bother trying to put in enough background for the story to stand alone. A number of political and military factions were mentioned but not explained, leaving me completely in the dark as to the motivations and implications of much that happened in the story.

The story was long on technical and battle description and short on character development. As best as I could tell, the plot went something like this: the captain and crew of a military spaceship with a controversial AI are on a training/shakedown mission when they encounter an unexpected mine field, suspect a trap, take cover and observe for a while, and then capture or disable a bunch of other space vessels. I have no idea why anyone did anything.

The language was awkward at times. I was also regularly thrown out of the story by frequent changes of tense from past to present and back again. While action was more likely to be described in present tense and dialogue more likely to be past tense, this was not consistent and I could not determine any stylistic reasons for the switches.

I was not engaged or impressed.

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Murder World: Kaiju Dawn by Jason Cordova and Eric S. Brown, submitted as part of the Hugo Voters' Packet, is one of several books that Campbell nominee Cordova has co-written with Eric Brown. Of course, it's difficult to know how much of the book is due to Cordova's input, but at least it's something to go on.

It's kind of a fun concept - mercenaries are hired to retrieve something from a military ship that crashed on a presumably uninhabited planet, only to crash themselves and discover the planet is full of kaiju - monsters from Japanese sf films. It's chock full of wisecracking fighters - I particularly liked the lethally kickass woman, as you would expect) and full-tilt action scenes and almost everyone dies before the last survivors make it off the planet (with some unexpected help). The characters and situations are walking cliches, the plot is rather formulaic, the craft is adequate to tell a story of this type, but that's about it. It's what I call a guilty pleasure read - there's nothing particularly remarkable about it, but it hits a few of my favourite plot buttons and it's a quick and easy read when you're in the mood for something that does not challenge in the slightest.

Cordova also submitted a shorter and solo piece called "Hill 142." Set in war-torn Europe (there's reference to The Great War) it features another "high concept" - Germans on giant spiders, referred to in the story as the "dreaded German Höllenspinne Division." Fortunately, the allies have giant attack lions on their side. Unfortunately, there are more spiders than lions, but everyone on the right side is courageous and dies nobly after completing their mission.Also unfortunately, the thing that struck me the most was how on earth the human protagonist was able to dismount from his lion twice without an intervening remount. Must have been the heat of battle.

Basing my assessment on these two submissions, Cordova has a future as an SF writer to be sure, and I enjoyed them both, but to me, his work does not rise to the level of previous Campbell winners such as Spider Robinson, C. J. Cherryh, Ted Chiang, Nalo Hopkinson, Cory Doctorow, Elizabeth Bear, Jo Walton, and others.
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Having won the Hugo for Best Novel last year with the first volune of the Imperial Radch trilogy Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie has been nominated in the same category this year for the second volune of the trilogy, Ancillary Sword. A deeply engrossing cross between space opera and spy/intrigue thriller, with a sophisticated exploration of the underlying themes of identity, gender and imperialism, both of these novels are suberb reading.

Having made a major impression with her first novel, Ann Leckie does it again in the second volume of her planned trilogy, Ancillary Sword. I continue to be impressed by her storytelling skill. In this volume, the scope collapses to a single solar system, as Breq, now captain of the Mercy of Kalr, is sent by one of the factions of the Lord of the Radch, Anaander Mianaai, to Athoek, a planet assimilated into the Radch Empire several centuries ago, and now the major supplier of tea to the Empire.

As Breq navigates her way through the political and social structures at work on both the planet - where wealthy tea plantation owners live in luxury while transportees from other planets work the fields as indentured servants - and on Athoek Station - where the planetary officials and representatives of all classes except the plantation workers carry out their daily tasks in a microcosm - we discover along with her the nuances of Radchaai culture even as we watch an incisive exploration of colonialism run rampant.

Breq's evolving sense of identity is also highlighted in Ancillary Sword. Linked as captain to her ship, she is at once reminded of what it was like to be a ship, at the same time that she realises most keenly that she can no longer act as a ship. It becomes increasingly clear that the person she is becoming has a profound desire for justice, but does not yet understand the state of being human well enough to consistently grasp what true justice is.

I'm very excited about the next book. I want most of all to see more of who Breq is becoming. And of course, seeing what happens to the Radch Empire.

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Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie's debut novel, is nothing less than brilliant. It rests on the boundary between milsf, space opera and suspense thriller, a story about a former member of an imperial spacefleet, witness to military atrocities, betrayed by her leaders, on a quest for justice. But the protagonist, now calling herself Breq, is all that remains of an AI that once gave consciousness to both a battleship, Justice of Toren, and a multitude of once-human, mind-wiped and technologically enhanced auxillary units. And Anaander Mianaai, the leader of the Empire known as the Radch (the word means civilised in the language of the Radchaai), who ordered the slaughter and betrayed her is a human consciousness fragmented between a thousand or more cloned bodies, some of which are at war with each other.

For most of the novel, the narrative alternates between the present, in which Breq has finally, after 19 years as a single-bodied consciousness, ready to take action against Anaander, and past events, occurring when the protagonist was still a battle cruiser with ancillary units, but with a focus on the perspective of the ancillary One Esk, who is most fully a witness to the events leading up to the atrocity and betrayal, and who will eventually become Breq.

There is so much more to this novel than unique characters in a fast-paced and tightly plotted space adventure. The multiple bodies and memories of the two main characters raise profound questions about what it means to be human, and how one defines one's identity. Breq's uncertainty about who or what she is and how she fits into human society has a counterpoint in the third significant character - Seivarden, a fugitive drug addict from the Radch, once a junior officer on Justice of Toren over a thousand years ago, who was lost along with her ship during her first command and drifted in deepsleep for centuries before being found and revived into a future she has no connection too.

Then there are all the issues of a failing empire grown huge and unwieldy on too many assimilated star systems, with a cultural secret - a genocide far greater that the slaughter witnessed by Breq, one that threatens to shatter both the mind of Anaander Mianaai and the future of the Imperial Radch.

In among all of these themes and issues, Leckie also forces readers to think about language and gender, when she makes the Radchaai a people who have no concept of gender as a differentiating characteristic between people. They have more than one biological sex, but this is totally irrelevant within their culture. They use only one pronoun, which translates into other languages as "she/her." Lacking an awareness of gender, they do not understand the cues that designate gender in other cultures - leading to some confusion when Breq must guess at gender when speaking to non-Radch, and often make mistakes. It also allows for sentences such as "She was probably male, to judge from the angular mazelike patterns quilting her shirt. I wasn’t entirely certain."

I fell in love with this book and am eagerly preparing to read the second volume of the Imperial Radch trilogy.

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One of the many contradictions in my life is that I am somewhat of a pacifist (short version: only violence as a last-option self-defense response) who sometimes enjoys reading milsff - both the fantasy/historical fantasy type and the harder science fiction type.

Most of my favourite milsff has been written by women, and some of it has been milsff that is deeply critical of war and its consequences. One such author is Karin Lowachee, whose military sf trilogy (Warchild, Cagebird, Burndive) is a powerful examination of the phenomenon of the child soldier.

In fact, it was Lowachee's name in the ToC of the milsff anthology War Stories: New Military Science Fiction, edited by Jaym Gates and Andrew Liptak, that made me decide to read it. And I am glad I did, because this is a collection of very good war stories, told with an awareness of the costs and consequences of war.

War Stories is a crowd-funded anthology, published by Apex. Part of the project description from the Kickstarter page says:
War Stories isn't an anthology of bug hunts and unabashed jingoism. It's a look at the people ordered into impossible situations, asked to do the unthinkable, and those unable to escape from hell. It's stories of courage under fire, and about the difficulties in making decisions that we normally would never make. It's about what happens when the shooting stops, and before any trigger is ever pulled.
The anthology opens with the award-winning story Graves by Joe Haldeman, which serves as a kind of theme piece for the remainder of the book. Haldeman, himself a veteran of the American military involvement in Vietnam, tells a story about an American Vietnam vet whose job was to collect and process the bodies of fallen American soldiers for return to the U.S., and the circumstances of one particular incident that has lived on in his nightmares for 20 years.

The other stories are divided into four themed sections - Wartime Systems, Combat, Armored Force and Aftermath. What binds them all together is a focus on the characters, their motivations for and reactions to those impossible, unthinkable, inescapable situations. The stories are told from varied perspectives - front-line warriors and support personnel, officers and grunts and solitary specialists, victors and vanquished, participants and civilians, the occupied and the occupiers, those who came home and those who did not (and those who, having come hone, could not stay), those who went to war and those who waited behind. And all written with clarity and power.

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Glen Cook

People I know have been raving at me about Glen Cook's The Black Company series for years. So, earlier this year I decided it was time to give them a read. The series is divided into several sections, and follows the history of a mercenary company through about forty years of its history. The company itself has been around for at least 400 years, and the tradition is that one of the company's officers does double duty as the company's Annalist. The conceit of the novels is that in all but one of the books we are reading a section from the annals of the company, and over the course of the series, there are several annalists - giving the novels considerable variation in tone, voice, what kinds of events and observations are selected for inclusion and how they are organised. The exception to this is the fourth volume, which tells of events that happen in the North after the surviving members of the Company decide to travel to the South, where their legends say they came from 400 year ago. The series is constructed as follows:

The Books of the North
The Black Company (Annalist: Croaker)
Shadows Linger (Annalist: Croaker)
The White Rose (Annalist: Croaker)

The Silver Spike (Narrator: Case)

The Books of the South
Shadow Games (Annalist: Croaker)
Dreams of Steel (Annalist: Lady)

The Books of the Glittering Plain
Bleak Seasons (Annalist: Murgen)
She Is The Darkness (Annalist: Murgen)
Water Sleeps (Annalist: Sleepy)
Soldiers Live (Annalist: Croaker)

I must say that I found the series very uneven in terms of readability. The Books of the North were very readable once I got about halfway into book one - the first half of the book was a bit of a slog. Shadow Games was another page-turner, then the series really bogged down for me, until the last two books, which moved at a fair clip.

The story is a complex one, with a large cast of characters, both villains and decent hard-working mercenaries. The characters are extremely well fleshed-out - one of the positive thing about the series is that in between military actions, we get a good look at life as a mercenary - whether officer, grunt, or specialist (i.e., wizard) - under a wide range of circumstances.

In general, I found myself reading this more for the characters than for the story, especially once the action moved into the southern continent and the company comes closer to learning the truth about its origins - which truth, to my mind, was foreshadowed and hinted at far too often for it to be a surprise when the Company members themselves finally discover it. I'm glad I finally read it, and if the long-promised "coda" volume, Port of Shadows, is ever released, I'll certainly read it just to see what happened to the company next.

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Tanya Huff, Truth of Valor

In or out of the Marines, Tanya Huff's Torin Kerr kicks ass!

In the latest installment of Huff's MilSF Confederation series, Kerr, having left the Marines to go into partnership with her lover, deepspace salvage operator Craig Ryder, finds herself floundering in civilian life, especially when it comes to trying to integrate herself into the culture of the civilian salvage operators - an independent bunch at best, whose philosophies and customs are quite different from the Marines she has lived and worked among for so many years.

The difference is brought sharply home when Kerr and her partner find evidence of pirates preying on salvage operators, and Ryder is himself captured by the pirates. Ryder's friends and fellow operators refuse Torin's request for help in tracking down the pirates and trying to rescue him - a response that is almost unbelievable to someone imbued with the Marine Corps philosophy to leave no one behind.

Determined to find and save her lover no matter what the cost, Torin contacts old friends and mounts a rescue against all odds. What else would you expect her to do?

And at the end, a hint of more to come, which may take the Confederation's most kick-ass heroine in a new and promising direction.

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Steve Perry, The Musashi Flex

After re-reading all of the Matador series books published back in the 1980s and 90s, I discovered that Perry had returned to the Matador universe and had written a prequel that harkened back to the origins of the fighting style used by the Matadors in their revolution. I am pleased to report that the first of the prequels was just as good as the original series. I understand from Wiki that two more prequels are in progress, and I’m waiting for them eagerly.

Linda Evans, Far Side of Darkness

This is a well written and rather enjoyable book. There’s a conspiracy involving scientists and the military and a few other assorted people who want the world to be run their way. There’s a co-opted top secret government project involving time travel. And there’s a group of ordinary people caught up in all of this, accidentally sent through time, who eventually manage to come together and start to figure out what is going on and realise they may be the only ones who can stop it.

But I cannot recommend it, because the book ends on a cliffhanger, with no resolution at all. It was clearly intended as the first half of a tightly-connected duology, and given that it was originally published in 1996, it seems unlikely that the second half will ever be available. So, as things stand, don’t buy it – you will find yourself with a severe case of reading interruptus. That said, if the sequel is ever published – grab both volumes and go for it.

Eleanor Arnason, Tomb of the Fathers
Eleanor Arnason, Mammoths of the Great Plains

Eleanor Arnason is brilliant. She thinks deeply and honestly about things like gender, class, race, colonialism and imperialism, and how they affect her characters and the stories she wants to tell. And then she folds these important considerations into fascinating tales with interesting and multi-dimensional characters. She writes with wit and grace. Her work is thought-provoking and satisfying. I was going to say something about the two Arnason books I read last year, but then I discovered a review by Kelly Jennings at Strange Horizons that says much of what I would have said abut them, so I will direct you there instead:

Lyda Morehouse, Resurrection Code

For those who know Morehouse’s AngeLINK series – this is a must-read. Mouse and Morningstar. Prequel and sequel. Betrayal and redemption. Cyberpunk and angels. Gender fluidity. Prophecy and portent. Everything that Morehouse does so well. For those who do not know the world of AngeLINK – this is probably not the place to begin, but I urge you to try your hardest to find Morehouse’s four previous AngeLINK novels (sadly out of print) and read them. I’ve never been able to understand why these books, which are full of amazing characters, provocative ideas about mind and soul and sex and technology, and complex and satisfying storytelling – all that science fiction at its best is about – have failed to find a wider market. Perhaps it is the moral (and gender) ambiguity of some of the characters – but Morehouse knows that all beings are complex, and contain multitudes and contradictions. If you haven’t figured out by now, I love Morehouse’s work in this series. She has written other books that are a joy to read – under the name Tate Hallaway – but this series truly is her masterwork. And it really should be in print again.

For those who are interested, here is a link to a review of Resurrection Code by Russ Allbery (where you can also find links to his reviews of the other AngeLINK books).

Elizabeth Moon, Hunting Party

While I do enjoy some milsf, I tend not to read it as often as I do fantasy, whether high or otherwise. So even though I love Moon’s high fantasy, I had never really made reading her milsf a high priority. However, after finishing the new volumes in the Paladin’s Legacy fantasy series, I found that I wanted more Moon – so I decided to try this, the first volume of volume in her Familias Regnant milsf series. And enjoyed it. The things that I enjoy so much in Moon’s fantasy are there in her sf too – strong female characters, well-paced stories with political intrigue. I intend to read more.

Nick Harkaway, The Gone-Away World

A darkly satirical post-apocalyptic action-adventure comedy which poses serious questions concerning the nature of reality and identity, Harkaway’s first novel is perhaps a bit excessive, but has moments of sheer genius and more than enough energy to pull the reader through the rough spots. To say nothing of the question that is likely in the back of every reader’s mind – what the fuck will he do next? I really can’t easily describe it – just check it out for yourself.

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Valor’s Trial, Tanya Huff

Tanya Huff does MilSF like nobody else does. Torin Kerr is truly one of the great characters in the subgenre, and this latest book in the series (and possibly the last, depending on who you interpret the ending) is yet more evidence that Huff knows the things that can go wrong with this kind of a series and this kind of a character in this kind of subgenre, and she does not make the kinds of mistakes that have been made by others working in the same vein. ::cough::David Weber::cough::

One of the inherent problems in writing space opera/MilSF is that you have a hero, and to make the story interesting, you need to have that hero do uncommon, in fact, heroic things. And the more novels you write in the series, the more heroic deeds your character has attached to her name But in a real military organisation, the more of a legend you become, the less you fit into the ranks, because military organisations work by suppressing individual action and identity in favour of the group identity, the mass action.

And by the time we get to this book, Torin Kerr has a lot of heroic and noteworthy deeds attached to her name. She’s not just a Gunnery Sergeant, doing what any Gunnery Sergeant would do – she is an individual with a legend building around her, and that makes her a disruption in the ranks, not an asset.

And Huff knows and understands this. A large chunk of the novel shows us just what happens in a military environment under stress when a personality cult goes wrong, and throughout the novel we see both Kerr and those around her questioning how the cult of personality growing around her will affect her ability to fulfill her function effectively, and affect the ability of others to fulfill theirs.

This novel ties up a lot of loose ends from previous books in the series, and leads Kerr to the only possible solution to the problem her fame and unusual success have caused for her and for the Marine Corps. It’s also a rousing SF version of the prisoner of war breakout story that kept me reading anxiously and eagerly right to the end.

If this is the last Torin Kerr novel – it’s a great way for her to go. If there are more, they will be very different, and that’s going to be interesting if it happens.

Brava, Gunnery Sergeant Kerr, and brava, Ms. Huff, for treating the character with respect and sending her off in style.

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The Outback Stars, Sandra McDonald.

This is the first novel in a space opera/milSF trilogy with a strong female protagonist and a universe in which Australia gets to be the basis for an interstellar civilisation. And it’s a lot of fun. Political intrigue, mysterious alien technology, space pirates, rebellion, spies, vanished civilisations and a judicious splash of romance made this an enjoyable read for me.

I particularly enjoyed the early section of the novel, in which the protagonist, Lt. Jodenny Scott, services and supply specialist, arrives on a new and clearly trouble-ridden ship and is assigned a mid-level command position in one of the most dysfunctional departments on board. It is in some ways a bit of a clichéd situation, but the attempts of the hero to get to the bottom of what’s rotten in the face of military protocol, closed ranks, and corrupt officers is both realistic and fascinating.

The other really interesting element in the book is the mystery of the ancient alien instantaneous interstellar transport technology that humans have been using without understanding much about how it works and what it is capable of, which is of course the big mystery that awaits our hero after she deals with spies, rebels, and corrupt officers. I am really looking forward to finding out more about the – supposedly – long-vanished alien civilisation that left this system in place for humans to find.

Beyond the Australian flavour of the setting and of Jodenny’s experiences with the mystery alien transport system, there isn’t really a lot that’s new in this book, but all the elements are put together in such a way as to provide a pleasing space romp.

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The Heart of Valor, Tanya Huff

This is the third novel in Huff’s series about Marine Sergeant Torin Kerr. The series takes place in a future in which several younger and more aggressive species (humans among them) have been granted membership in a Confederation of many species, most both non-violent and much older, on the understanding that their peoples will staff the Confederation’s military forces in the ongoing war against mysterious invader known only as the Others.

Sgt Kerr (recently promoted to Gunnery sergeant) serves, with great skill and efficiency, in this future military. Up to this point, she has been a perfect soldier – carrying out her mission, doing her best (and her best is pretty damn good) to keep her senior officers from doing something foolish and the Marines under their command alive. But something is changing.

In her last adventure, Sgt. Kerr was involved in a first contact situation with an apparently sentient space ship, and now Kerr discovers that she and a handful of those who were with her on the alien ship have memories that no one else involved in the mission have. And no one seems willing to listen to her when she tries to tell the brass that something is wrong.

Heart of Valor is, like the earlier Confederation novels, a rousing action story in the tradition of the great milsf writers, but it is also, I think, something more – the beginnings of an exploration into the level of trust required between civilian leadership and the military, and into what are the responsibilities of a soldier when she suspects that trust has been breached.

I was loving this series already, because Torin Kerr is an interesting and well-developed character, and because of the solid portrayal of a women in the military. But now I think I’m liking it even more, as Huff seems to be setting the stage for a broader consideration of the relationship between the military and its civilian overseers. Already, one begins to wonder about the implications of how and why the younger races were admitted into the Confederation – to do the fighting for those who will not, while having at the same time no input into the highest levels of decisions about military goals and attempts to enter into negotiations with the enemy – and it’s going to be interesting to see what happens if Kerr’s intelligence and insight keep bringing up questions that her devotion to duty and to the Marines might make her reluctant to think about.

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I have been reading a lot of novels in series lately. I like series. I love plots that go on for volumes and volumes and characters that grow and change and themes that are developed layer upon layer.

Lately, I have begun reading, or completed reading, or read a few more books in the middle of, the following series. All of these series, obviously, are ones that I have or am enjoying highly, because if I weren't, why on earth would I have read more than the first volume?

The Miles Korkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Brothers in Arms
Mirror Dance

What is there not to love about a runty little hero with a brittle bone disability, a brilliant mind and a gift for profound deviousness and intrigue who's trying to face down a birth culture in which physical prowess and manliness is everything, while making a name for himself as a mercenary captain and concealing his mission as an interstellar intelligence agent?

I read the first novels in this series a long time ago, when they first came out, and then a couple of years back, when I happened to notice just how many more of them Bujold had written, I re-read the older ones and am now in the process of reading the neweer ones. Bujold's is smart, and often funny milsf adventure with some very nice exploration of both gender politics and disability issues, and some very nice political intrigue.

The Diana Tregarde Mysteries, by Mercedes Lackey
Children of the Night
Jinx High

Completing my re-read of this urban fantasy series, which alas has only three volumes. Diana Teegarde is a Guardian, a person who is gifted with strong supernatural and/or psychic gifts and the ability to perform magic, and has accepted the responsibility to use these gifts to oppose those - both human and inhuman - who would use such powers for evil.

As with many of Lackey's novels, there's a distinct pagan-friendly and queer-positive vibe, a strong female protagonist, children at risk and some clearly defined heroes and villians.

The Jenny Casey trilogy by Elizabeth Bear

Ok, if you like hard sf, strong female protagonists, cyberpunk (although Bear has argued that it is actually post-cyberpunk), geopolitical sf, or just plain good writing with great characters and complex, action-filled plots about important human issues, go read Bear's novels about Master Warrant Officer Genevieve Casey. If you want some details first, you can find them at Elizabeth Bear's website.

I was enthralled by these books - quite literally, I read them one after another over the course of about two days. Compelling, thought-provoking, and exciting reading.

The Dragon Temple Trilogy, by Janine Cross
Touched by Venom
Shadowed by Wings
Forged by Fire

These are not easy books to read. I'll give you that warning right now. Over the course of these three novels, the young female protagonist - who is only a child when the books begin - experiences just about every kind of abuse you can imagine, as a child, as a female, as a slave, as a political prisoner, as a gender rebel, as a racial minority, as a member of an oppressed socio-economic class, as an addict, as an enforced victim/participant of a religious cult, as a recruit in a brutal quasi-military training program, and probably as several more identities that are traditionally targets of institutionalised as well as individual abuse that I hadn't noticed.

Some people have dismissed these works as violent pornography, others have seen them as a deeply disturbing dystopia with a profound feminist and anti-oppression stance. I'm defintely in the latter camp on this - sometimes it's important to remember just how bad things not just can be, but are for people who are not privileged (as I imagine many of the readers of this blog are, at least in some ways).

There is a great review by Liz Henry up at Strange Horizons that not only looks at the first book in the series from a feminist and anti-oppression perspective, but also examines the vastly divergeant opinions people have voiced about the book.

The Company Novels, by Kage Baker
Sky Coyote
Mendoza in Hollywood
The Graveyard Game

I read the first volume in the series, In the Garden of Iden, earlier this year, and was very much intrigued with the set-up - time-travelling for profit, with entreprenuers from the future conscripting orphans throughout history to become immortal collectors of vanished artworks, cultural histories, extinct specimens, and all sort of other things worth saving - if someone is going to profit by it. It was claer from the very first that there were some unanswered questions about the whole enterprise, and as the series has continued, that's proving to be even truer than I'd expected.

The key continuing characters - Mendoza, saved from the Spanish Inquisition as a child, and Joseph, her recruiter, himself rescued from a massacre of his family group in 20,000 BCE by Budu, an even older Immortal of whom much is heard but little is seen in the books I have read so far - find themselves and their associates withing the Company increasing confronted by mysteries about who really runs the Company, the source of the technology that made both time travel and their own immortality possible, the real motives of the increasing large number of factions associated with the Company, its operatives and controllers, the growing number of disapperaing immortals, and most mysterious of all, what happens after 2355 - the year in which all communications from the future to the operatives and immortals stationed all throughout human history (and pre-history) cease.

Political intrigue on a truly grand scale. I'm loving this series.


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