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Beyond Cloud Nine

Greg Spry. Greg Spry, $4.99 e-book (391p) ISBN 978-0-990822-41-7

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Spry’s debut, which kicks off his Beyond saga, is a fast-paced, old-fashioned space opera that effectively draws readers into his created universe. In 2247, Lt. Brooke Davis is serving as an Aerospace Defense pilot in the Jupiter orbit, with dreams of becoming the “first human to fly faster than light.” Complications in her prenatal gene therapy have given her “upper-percentile spatial awareness,” which she’s supplemented with nanorobotic narcotics. Brooke needs all her skills to survive an explosion on Europa that claims 50,000 lives and may have been the work of terrorists—or previously unknown aliens. The truth behind the attack is also being probed by Brooke’s estranged sister, Marie, a reporter in Chicago. The mystery unfolds against an interesting backdrop; advances in biology allow for “mental pathway reconfiguration” and the prevention of birth defects. Despite scientific progress, humankind is still at war with itself. Brooke, who’s haunted by guilt over the circumstances of her father’s death, is a nicely flawed lead, and the ending makes the prospect of the sequel intriguing. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Saffron

Vic Warren. CreateSpace, $10.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-14961-7327-0

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Diver Jamie Edmondson gets a call from a rich eccentric to investigate rumors of strange creatures off the shore of present-day California. After discovering a race of undersea humanoids, Jamie fights to keep them out of the hands of the government in the first book of a series that features a great premise but falters in execution. While the imagination and wonder of finding the telepathic Neptunes balances out some of the bad dialogue (such as Jamie’s unironic exclamation of “You fiend!”), Warren (Stairway of the Gods) falls quickly into relying on caricatures of evil government agents and noble employees within a corrupt system. Most egregious is the lack of agency for Jamie’s hot actress girlfriend, Mercy, who exists primarily to be kidnapped, and the completely unnecessary sexual assault of a young Neptune to prove how evil the government is. This missed opportunity sinks under the weight of its faults. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Affinities

Robert Charles Wilson. Tor, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7653-3262-2

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Wilson (Burning Paradise) works a fascinating transformation on one of the oldest plot devices in SF: people who are widely hated for their inherent difference from the rest of humankind. Those who join one of the 22 Affinity groups are normal people with normal abilities, but careful screening by InterAlia, a private company, places them in groups of particularly compatible fellow members, allowing for an unusual degree of cooperation and happiness. Adam Fisk, dissatisfied with his life and his unhappy family, gets tested and is assigned to the Tau group. At his first Tau gathering, he feels like he’s finally come home. As the years pass, however, laid-back Tau and the stiff-necked Het group consistently outperform the others, as well as the unaffiliated. InterAlia goes bankrupt, portable test kits become available, and international tensions soar; the U.S. government considers legislation designed to corral the Affinities’ successes, and Tau and Het increasingly come into conflict. Adam is caught up in the growing violence with no idea of how to stop it. Wilson’s trademark well-developed characters and understated but compelling prose are very much in evidence in this quietly believable tale of the near future. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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RAM-2050

Joan Roughgarden. Kauai Institute (kauai-
institute.com), $21.99 (492p) ISBN 978-0-9862914-0-1

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Evolutionary biologist Roughgarden (Evolution’s Rainbow) reaches back two millennia to turn the Ramayana into science fiction, changing its poetry to hard science but unfortunately losing its sense of grand-scale wonder in the process. In the mid-21st century, Das, the CEO of Apple, creates a son, Ram, who’s genetically engineered to meet whatever challenges the future will bring. Das mixes in the DNA of great people and also of animals, hoping the child will have unusual attributes and an ability to bond with other creatures. As a young man, Ram converses with animals and strengthens his body through techno-medical intervention as well as by playing sports with his brothers. These efforts prepare him to confront the evil Ravan, leader of an international crime syndicate. But before taking his place as CEO of Apple, Ram is exiled and his wife, Sita, is kidnapped at Ravan’s direction, leading to a war that threatens to make Ram forget his ultimate purpose. Roughgarden stays faithful to the essence of the original stories, but the book lacks their epic feel and beautiful language. While the rewrite may disappoint those who have read the Ramayana, it should satisfy fans of technical and naturalistic SF. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Architect of Aeons

John C. Wright. Tor, $26.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-7653-2970-7

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Wright continues his latest space opera (following The Judge of Ages) in this galaxy-spanning extravaganza with nods to the Odyssey, Shakespeare, and Japanese legend, as well as classic visionary and military SF. Brilliant posthumans Ximen del Azarchel, suave and snobbish, and Menelaus Illation Montrose, earthy and stubborn, continue their multifaceted relationship as friends, allies, deadly foes, and bitter rivals for the love of the Princess Rania, who long ago departed from Sol’s planetary system. As the two geniuses debate whether to oppose or welcome the invasion of the solar system by planet-sized intelligences sent from afar, their ongoing dispute over the princess also continues unabated, sometimes in jests between the two and at other times in actions that affect the fates of millions of people. The years roll by in the tens of thousands while humans ascend to the stars, revert to barbarity, and ascend again. Wright revels in a linguistic phantasmagoria, including Montrose’s detailed and colorful cursing and numerous multisyllabic scientific and pseudoscientific terms. The jacket copy claims this is the last book in the series, but there’s easily room on this broad canvas for Wright to add another. Agent: Jack Byrne, Sternig & Byrne Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Sacrati

Kate Sherwood. Riptide (riptide-
publishing.com), $17.99 trade paper (425p) ISBN 978-1-62649-254-7

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Sherwood (In Too Deep) delivers an action-packed, muscle-driven, and occasionally thoughtful tale of a warrior and a scholar taming each other and their risky passions in a rich fantasy world. Theos is Sacrati, an elite solider inside the devastatingly capable army of the Torian empire, where the women rule the cities, the men are part of the war machine, and same-sex, nonmonogamous love is the norm. When Theos’s patrol captures a group of Elkati spies, he finds himself saddled with discomfiting knowledge about conspiracies within the military that threaten the prosperity and security of the Torian empire. Theos also tries to understand how Finnvid, the leader of the Elkati group and now his personal slave, could value intellectual pursuits over the glory of war—and value his homeland’s monogamous, homophobic values over giving in to his lust for Theos. The salacious tension is spiced with distrust and betrayal as Theos and Finnvid endearingly struggle to build a bridge between their worldviews and find their own way to love. There are a few faltering moments when politics from our world inexplicably intrude; nonetheless, this gripping fantasy is not to be missed. (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Archangel

Marguerite Reed. Resurrection/Arche (resurrectionhouse.com/ap/), $16 trade paper (298p) ISBN 978-1-63023-011-1

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This series launch hits the sweet spot with a truly alien setting, a well-developed future culture, and a thoughtful, talented heroine. Vashti Loren—hunter, naturalist, mother, and the widow of a revered explorer—is a settler on Ubastis, a fertile, lush world where settlement has been intensely restricted to prevent the environmental collapse that ruined Earth and its other colonies. Tensions are rising between those who would protect Ubastis against further colonization and those who want to open it up to widespread settlement. As Vashti considers her role in the coming conflict, she confronts the wounds of her past through uncomfortable interactions with a bioengineered super-soldier similar to the one who murdered her husband. Reed is a skilled storyteller and the world of Ubastis is a vivid creation, with a Muslim culture that is simply part of the overall setting rather than a driver of the plot. Vashti is a troubled, fascinating protagonist whose story ends on a cliffhanger, with greater battles for the fate of Ubastis and her own family yet to come. (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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When the Heavens Fall

Marc Turner. Tor, $27.99 (544p) ISBN 978-0-7653-3712-2

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Debut author Turner’s epic fantasy trilogy launch—heavily populated with warriors, mages, gods, fearsome creatures, and even an undead army—provides plenty of frenzy but little momentum. Mayot, a rogue mage, has stolen an ancient tome with the power to harness the dead; with differing motives, several players move from distant locales to reclaim it. Bits of backstory are draped on each character, but the bulk of the novel involves traveling, fighting a little, then traveling some more. Disaffected mage Luker’s journey with a military attaché who may be an enemy blurs with newly crowned king Ebon’s journey with a military attaché who may be an enemy. The necromancer Parolla is so poorly characterized that her third-act impact on the story is utterly bewildering. High priestess Romany, a delightful mix of ruthlessness and entitled haughtiness, serves the Spider, an indistinct deity whose role is never clarified. The story lines finally coalesce in one more massacre of undead extras amid blasts of magical fire and wind. Weary readers perplexed by the inexplicable resolution will have little reason to look for the sequels. Agent: Andy Zach, Zach Company. (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Liberty and Other Stories

Alexis Hall. Riptide (riptidepublishing.com), $8.96 e-book (250p) ISBN 978-1-62649-229-5

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Hall (Prosperity) takes readers on an off-kilter tour through a steampunk world filled with floating cities, airships, and extra-dimensional eldritch abominations in this disjointed omnibus. Four stories (all available as separate e-books) allow Hall to experiment in different ways with form and function. “Squamous with a Chance of Rain,” a tongue-in-cheek epistolary narrative, owes much to both gothic romances and Lovecraftian horror, with a genre-savvy governess recounting her experiences at a distant manor where strange things are afoot. “Liberty” describes a collection of documents and found artifacts relating to the long-ago conflicts faced by a mechanically enhanced aethermancer in the flying pirate city of Liberty. “Shackles” is by far the most straightforward tale, as a clergyman tries to coax repentance from a condemned man, only to fall for his devious charms. “Cloudy Climes and Starless Skies” is something of an airship-themed coming-of-age adventure. Though Hall’s versatility is admirable and the setting is full of promise, these four very different stories just don’t play well together. (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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No One Gets Out Alive

Adam Nevill. St. Martin’s, $26.99 (640p) ISBN 978-1-4668-3739-3

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Well-regarded British horror novelist Nevill (Apartment 16) does not disappoint in his latest standalone. Stephanie, a teenager estranged from her stepmother and desperate to make it on her own, rents a cheap room and immediately discovers that she’s made a huge mistake: the house is haunted, her landlord is abusive, and she has nowhere else to go. Over the following week, Stephanie is submerged in abject terror, bouncing from mundane despair to supernatural fright so quickly that the reader becomes disoriented—a sensation that only enhances the suspense. Rather than simply hanging his plot on evil ghosts, Nevill pits his heroine against two somewhat Roald Dahlian villains who serve as a chilling reminder that true horror is easily found in the real world. Their behavior is hauntingly depraved, but despite the highly sexual nature of their crimes, Stephanie herself is never made a sexual target—a welcome change from the horror fiction status quo. Though Nevill’s verbosity extends the book’s length by an unnecessary hundred pages or so, the slow and steady pace preys on the reader as much as the plot itself, eliciting a reading experience fraught with real chills. (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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