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The Farseer: Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb, Bantam Spectra
Fairyland by Paul J. McAuley, Avon
Ancient Shores by Jack McDevitt, HarperPrism
Higher Education by Charles Sheffield and Jerry Pournelle, Tor
Night Lamp by Jack Vance, Tor
Hunter's Death by Michelle West, DAW
Review Links
The Cobweb by Stephen Bury, Bantam
Top Dog by Jerry Jay Carroll, Ace
Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling, Bantam Spectra
Idoru by William Gibson, Putnam
Shadow of Ashland by Terence M. Green, Forge
Mindstar Rising by Peter F. Hamilton, Tor
Ancient Shores
by Jack McDevitt, HarperPrism

[Cover] When Clifford Simak died some years ago, I was saddened. I missed his gentle prose, his kind characters and his wry humour. Jack McDevitt has brought all that back to me. This alien artifact novel has all the elements which made a Simak story such a joy for me. While turning the pages of this novel, I never had the sense that McDevitt was leading me to some inevitable conclusion. New characters slipped in and out of scenes, some playing a small expositiory part while others, in retrospect, proved pivotal to plot development.

It begins with finding an oddly designed sailboat buried in a farmer's field. Material analysis reveals Earth hasn't the technology to manufacture the boat's hull. Later discovery of what everybody calls The Roundhouse proves to be a gateway to other worlds. Rather than hearing about the rousing adventures of exploring another planet, readers gain insight into the implications of such an event on characters who could be their friends, neighbours and leaders. Their maneuverings, both political and social, held up a mirror for me of what to expect if an event of this magnitude were to occur in the near future. It made me shudder.

The Farseer: Royal Assassin
by Robin Hobb, Bantam Spectra

[Cover] Years ago, I haunted bookstores (new and used) looking for science fiction and fantasy. Often, I came across a title that was the second or third in a series. It sent me on a quest for the first volume because (to me) it didn't make sense to start in the middle. (Or more correctly, I got confused with what was going on in those few I tried.)

I picked up this novel, thinking I'd browse a little of it since I hadn't read the first (flashes of starting Chalker's Well Worlds with volume two sped through my mind). I couldn't put it down. Hobb has a true gift for characterization: she made Fitz (the bastard assassin of our story) carry his angst, his physical pain, his maturing into adulthood seamless and non-trivial. Her prose is quite unlike some other authors whose attempts at this difficult task appear whiny and self-serving. Within minutes of finishing, I dredged up a copy of the first and dove in.

Luck in the Shadows
by Lynn Flewelling, Bantam Spectra

[Cover] Suppose you've been thrown into a dungeon, beaten senseless by the jailer, not fed for several days, had your cell companion dragged off to his death and you still don't know why you're there. Then they toss in a new fellow who wants you to escape with him. Suspicious, eh? Yeah, I've watched too much TV to take this at face value. Well, Alec hasn't (no TV in this fantasy novel). He goes along with it (holding his questions 'til he's safe) and thus begins a non-stop adventure that doesn't slow down until the end almost 500 pages later.

Flewelling has started a series that all fantasy adventure readers will love. Her characters sparkle, her settings are rich and her prose is clean. Bookstores should start ordering them by the box.

Top Dog
by Jerry Jay Carroll, Ace

[Cover] Have you ever picked up a first book by a new author and smiled? The smile may come from liking how the writer starts the book. Or it may come from thinking how your favourite critic (whether they be the guy down the hall who says You gotta read this. or from the local newspaper) hated it and you just know you're going to love it since all their taste is in their mouth. My smile came while reading the first page. The main character, William B. Ingersol, realizes he's running in the woods, secure in his place in the hierarchy of things. Suddenly, he remembers he detests exercise. He'd use a sedan chair to ride from his car to the elevator. Then, seeing paws, he knows he's a dog. Not since Gordon R. Dickson's The Dragon and the George have I enjoyed a transferring-into-the-wrong-body as much.

Hunter's Death
by Michelle West, DAWCanadian Author

[Cover] Boy-oh-boy did I get fooled by this one. I had read the first volume, Hunter's Oath, liked it a lot and thought that this second would follow the adventures of Gilliam and his Hunt Brother, Stephen. Well, it does but it is so much more. Rather than trying to provide a plot synopsis which wouldn't do it justice (neither does the cover blurb), I'd rather mention the superb job that the author has done in bringing a complicated plot together and the stylistic excellence of her characterization in showing me how and why they do what they do and why they are who they are. In almost 700 pages, I wasn't distracted by the busyness of plot nor was I confused by who was doing what, a true triumph.

I have a number of series markers which I use to recommend books. The first is that each volume tells a full story (and avoids annoying the reader). There are others but one has become paramount over the years. Few series I've read have reached this marker. A second volume (which is a bridge to subsequent books, traditionally) is even better than the first. Hunter's Death reached this marker.

Higher Education
by Charles Sheffield and Jerry Pournelle, Tor

[Cover] When I was but a wee sprout, I discovered what we now know as the Heinlein juveniles. They changed my life. No small statement, you may be thinking. They taught me to take responsibility for my actions, that I can do what I set out to do, that authority, while sometimes well-meaning, is invariably focused on maintaining the status quo. These and many other lessons shaped the person I am today.

Tor, via the talents of Sheffield and Pournelle, is publishing The Jupiter Books™, the first of which follows the travails of Rick Luban. His foolish prank leads to expulsion from school and into the Vanguard Mining training program for the mining of asteroids. There, he meets others of his ilk (he starts out as quite a jerk) who must pass testing and an apprenticeship before going on. Failure will lead to an aimless Earth-bound life (it's pretty grotty without an education or trade). Does Rick measure up? Well, he works hard, using the skills he develops and abilities he didn't know he had. He stumbles but he overcomes. More importantly, does this novel measure up? Having reread most of the Heinlein juveniles in the last few years, I'd say yes. The novel is rife with adventure, rigourous science, terrific characters. The single line plot rarely swerves and, of course, treachery abounds (my fave).

Mindstar Rising
by Peter F. Hamilton, Tor

Greg Mandel wants to be left alone. He'd like to spend his days taking on cases that interest him and plotting a little revenge. He's tired of the politics, the savagery, the waste. But it is apparent that a man with his talents is in demand. Greg is a telepath, the talent he wishes often would go away. He's hired to safeguard Philip Evans, the ailing head of Event Horizon, a megaplex of technologies from gravity control to AI.

Hamilton has all the pieces needed to be a top-flight SF author. His dialogue is crystal sharp, his settings veer towards the convincing, his prose is slick. There is no sense of plodding plots yet it is apparent that he's done his homework researching the political and environmental challenges we'll face with the emergence of global warming. Finally, his characters make me want to read any future Hamilton title.


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