Dead Trees Review

Issue 40

The New Space Opera, Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan (ed.), Eos Books, 2007
Hydrogen Steel, K.A. Bedford, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2006
Alphanauts, J. Brian Clarke, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2006
We, Robots, Sue Lange, Aqueduct Press, 2007
Tesseracts Ten, Robert Charles Wilson and Edo von Belkom (ed.), Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2006
Angelos, Robina Williams, Twilight Times Books, 2006
A Mortal Glamour, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Juno Books, 2007
The Charwomanís Shadow, Lord Dunsany, Ballantine, 1973
The OOBE File, Harry Highstreet, PublishAmerica, 2004
And the Angel with Television Eyes, John Shirley, Night Shade Books, 2001
To Save the World, Heather Hayashi, Synergy Books, 2006
The Chosen of Azar, Carol Kluz, WestBank Publishing, 2007
The Mars Run, Chris Gerrib, Lulu Press, 2006
The Woman and the Raven, Marlene vor der Hake, Booksurge LLC, 2007


The New Space Opera, Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan (ed.), Eos Books, 2007

Space opera has been defined as "colorful action-adventure stories of interplanetary or interstellar conflict." These new, never before published stories are tales of aliens and alien cultures, not just interstellar war stories.

A pair of human researchers change their species to investigate a scientific anomaly on another planet. A group of traveling Shakespearean actors give the performances of their lives for the aliens who have conquered and enslaved Earth. A human society which has barely conquered the airplane has less than 100 years to live; their sun is in the path of a destructive stellar phenomena. An experienced interstellar traveler urges/pushes them into a crash course in spaceflight. He has to deal with what the society has become.

An alien ship the size of Jupiter has been turned into the ultimate cruise ship, on an eons-long trip around the galaxy. After a hijack attempt goes wrong, a number of passengers are trapped outside the ship and are forced to create their own society on the shipís hull. A very rich man on Mars decides to bring Art and Culture to the miners who live there. He spares no expense to build a theatre with imported walnut paneling, and advertises on Earth, for actors who are ready to emigrate to Mars.

I really enjoyed these stories. Each of the authors in this collection very much knows what they are doing. This is a formidable group of tales, and is essential reading for all science fiction fans.

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Hydrogen Steel, K.A. Bedford, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2006

Zette McGee is a private investigator, and former cop, in a habitat on Ganymede. She abruptly retired from the force, rather than risk exposure of a personal secret. McGee is called out of retirement by a frantic phone call from android Kell Fallow, who knows her secret, and who swears he did not kill his family. Before Fallow can reach her, he is killed by a bomb in his gut.

At every step in the investigation, McGee, and Gideon Smith, a friend with a shadowy past, are stopped cold. It is the work of a firemind called Hydrogen Steel. Think of an artificial intelligence that has had eons of time (about a hundred years in human time) to grow and evolve. It can do a lot more than just read minds, for instance. Wherever they are, it can disable their ship, leaving them stranded in space. It can infect their neural implants with all sorts of major viruses. It can send an android that looks identical to McGee to destroy her residence. It can create intruders out of thin air, then disappear into thin air, to kill anyone it wishes. Hydrogen Steel can also infect McGee and Smith with bombs identical to the one that killed Fallow, forcing them to get quantum scans of their brains, and those scans downloaded into new bodies.

Hydrogen Steelís mission is to prevent any release of information regarding how the Earth disappeared years before. There wasnít any rubble from its destruction, just "poof." Another firemind, Otaru, finds out the truth, but knows that it will not survive the expected battle with Hydrogen Steel.

This is a gem of a novel. Itís a really good mystery/thriller; how does anyone deal with an entity that can reach into your DNA, and do something nasty? Itís also quite mind blowing, and is very much worth reading.

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Alphanauts, J. Brian Clarke, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2006

A small group of explorers have just returned to Earth after a several year trip to an earthlike planet of Alpha Centauri. They find, to their dismay, that they, literally, canít live on Earth at all. Anyone who has been away for at least 3 full years contracts a murderous disease called Earth Allergy Syndrome, or EAS. Also, relativity has reared its head; the toddler daughter of one of the explorers is now a middle-aged grandmother. The explorers are forced to return to Alpha Centauri, to what is now called Genserís World (after one of their group who succumbed to EAS).

Back on Genserís World, the colonists find the de-evolved descendants of another spacefaring race, and their empathic symbionts. Think of the symbionts as flying creatures the size of a hawk, with the face of a cat, and they love to be petted and scratched. They form bonds with humans almost instantly, a bond that becomes impossible to break. The colonists also come into contact with two cyborg intelligences, and a computer intelligence which is about to evolve into something that could easily wipe out the humans.

Suddenly, all contact with Earth is lost. By this time, the intelligences have modified the colonistís ship so that a trip of several years duration back to Earth has been reduced to several weeks. A group of colonists returns to Earth, and finds a scene of total devastation. Just before "The End," an asteroid was hollowed out and turned into a colony ship. It was launched toward Genserís World, with over 500 people on board. Their intention is to turn Genserís World into a fascist utopia.

This is a first-rate planetary colonization story with lots of science. Engineers and scientists will enjoy this book; so will everyone else who likes good, interesting writing.

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We, Robots, Sue Lange, Aqueduct Press, 2007

Set in a near future Earth where fully functioning robots are available at the local Wal-Mart, this story is about the coming of the Singularity. It is the point at which artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence.

Knowing that robots could enslave humanity, if they so wished, humanity has come up with a grand plan to control the robots through pain and fear. All robots are to receive a pain interpreter. Instead of knowing intellectually that placing a hand on a hot stove, for instance, is a really bad idea, the robot will now be able to feel the pain and hurt from the hot stove.

This story is narrated by an AV-1 (one of the rules is not to name your robot). Its owners are a married couple named Dal and Chit, and Angelina is their newborn daughter. The robot is to be a live-in day care provider, while Dal and Chit work as domestics to rich humans. After Angelina reaches school age, the robot escorts her to school, through their bad neighborhood in New Jersey, levitates to the top of the school building with the other robots, then escorts her home at the end of the day.

After the installation of the pain interpreter, the narrator, who Angelina calls Avey, becomes a conflicted being, experiencing love, pain and anger. Part of the deal for the robots is that they voluntarily hand themselves over to be recycled, and their parts made into new robots. Almost at the same time, robots everywhere, including Avey, decide not to go along; they like their present existence. Many attempts are made by humans to "convince" the robots that recycling is a good idea; some robots are disassembled, in front of other robots, without removing their pain interpreters first. It doesnít work. There will be no new robot models. Some humans have taken to physically modifying themselves to become part of the Singularity. These transhumans, looking forward to dominating Earth, are now out of a job.

It suddenly becomes popular for humans to neutralize their pain interpreters, to become more like robots. Taking advantage of their new ability (or disability), those who deserve to be removed from the gene pool, helpfully do just that. Humanity otherwise becomes quiet and docile. Without pain as a teacher, people wonít grow or know what questions to ask. Millions of years of human instinct are in danger of disappearing in a generation. Humanity becomes posthuman, without a single neural implant.

This is a short novel, about 100 pages, but it says a lot about concepts of humanity. It is easy to read, and very much worth reading.

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Tesseracts Ten, Robert Charles Wilson and Edo von Belkom (ed.), Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2006

Here is the latest in a yearly compendium of new speculative fiction stories from north of the border, in Canada (eh?).

In the early 20th Century, Halleyís Comet collides with Earth, causing nuclear winter. A planetary habitat is under attack by a sophisticated computer virus, which is spread by a cybernetic house pet. In a world where everyone gets their fiction beamed directly into their brains, a woman on a train picks up an actual book left by someone else. A new form of punishment for condemned criminals involves the surgical removal of body parts; first itís an eye, then a hand... Thereís a story about human resourcefulness in the face of an otherwise certain death on the surface of Mars.

A man who runs an oriental restaurant does not know what to do about his father. Even though he died several days previously, the fatherís ghost is still holding court, entertaining customers and old friends. What does one do with aliens who act exactly like drunken, horny teenage humans? Human organs for transplant can now be grown like house plants.

This is a first-rate collection of stories that deserve much greater exposure. These authors may not yet be household names; they also deserve much greater exposure. The reader will not go wrong with this book.

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Angelos, Robina Williams, Twilight Times Books, 2006

Here is the second novel about a rural friary somewhere in Britain. Among its inhabitants is a strange, dimension-jumping cat that (depending on which dimension you inhabit) is named Leo or Quant (short for Quantum).

The brothers of the friary are getting a new leader. Their previous leader, Brother Fidelis, practically jumped at the chance to be transferred to a tough, inner city parish. His belief that a cat did not belong in a friary probably had something to do with his sudden departure. After getting used to his new surroundings, his replacement, Brother Aidan, re-imposes supposedly much needed discipline at the friary. He is going through a spiritual crisis, feeling that God has abandoned him. Aidan feels that the only way to re-discover the path to the Lord is to go, for lack of a better term, back to basics. The brothers are as religious as anyone else, but, prayers several times a day, choir practice every day (attendance at both is not optional) and no leaving the friary without signing out, gets old very quickly.

Through some sort of quantum shift, the Minotaur (of labyrinth fame) is brought forward several thousand years, and lands in a gardening shed on the friary grounds. Far from being a carnivorous beast, the Minotaur is actually a vegetarian who didnít like eating all those Athenians. Leo/Quant convinces one of the brothers to fix a tray of food, and leave it at the door of the shed, without asking questions. The Minotaur is told, by the cat, that leaving the shed would be a very bad idea. Meantime, one of the brothers, Brother Jerome, is sent back in time to the labyrinth (in ancient Crete) and is loudly calling for rescue by Quant. Before the travelers are returned to where they belong, Jerome asks the cat if a short tour of Crete might be possible. Along the way, he meets Deiphobe the Sibyl, St. Jerome and Androcles (and the lion).

This is a "quiet" book, but a really good book. As with any series, reading Part One (Jerome and the Seraph) is a good idea. The story is just weird enough, and is very much worth reading.

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A Mortal Glamour, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Juno Books, 2007

Set in 14th Century France, times are hard at the convent La Tres Saunte Annunciacion. The plague has come, killing many of the areaís residents. The Catholic Church has two popes; one is in Rome, while the other rules from the French city of Avignon. The convent is doing the best it can, offering a meal and a bed for any passing travelers.

Aungelique, one of the sisters at the convent, is a headstrong young woman, and the daughter of a Baron. She is there only because of a huge disagreement with her father over whom she should marry. Aungelique has discovered the pleasures of the flesh (a major sin for a nun), and runs away from the convent, twice. She wants to live with, and learn from, Comtesse Orienne, the most sexually accomplished courtesan in Europe. Each time, she is convinced to return to the convent by Orienne.

Soon, screams of pleasure and pain are heard from behind the door to Aungeliqueís room, accompanied by bruises and scratches all over her body. It is as if she is being ravished by some invisible demon. She is ordered to fast, and keep all-night vigils, praying for Godís assistance, but it does not help. In fact, the "disease" spreads to other sisters, one of whom becomes pregnant, and dies in childbirth. An investigator is sent; he thinks that the best way to drive the demons out of the nuns is by physically beating them. He and Orienne cross paths; after a night of passion, he turns from an arrogant person convinced that he is right into feeling like the biggest sinner who ever walked the earth. The last resort for the authorities is to destroy the convent, and take everyone involved away to be burned at the stake.

An abridged version of this book was published in the mid-1980s. Here is the unabridged, author-approved version, and it is very much worth reading. It is quite dark and spooky (at which Yarbro is a master), and is a really well-done story.

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The Charwomanís Shadow, Lord Dunsany, Ballantine, 1973

Ramon Alonzo is a young man who has been sent to live with, and learn from, a famous wizard. He is only interested in how to turn base metals into gold. His sister is engaged to be married, and the family hopes that a small chest full of gold will suffice as a dowry.

While studying with the wizard, Ramon meets an elderly charwoman who has no shadow. The wizard took it many years ago, and refuses to give it back, keeping it in a locked box. She is basically trapped at the castle; she was chased out of the nearby village years before as some sort of demon, because of her lack of shadow. In a moment of chivalry, Ramon vows to retrieve her shadow. The charwoman urges Ramon to never, ever give up his shadow.

As part of his teaching fee, the wizard demands Ramonís shadow, but replaces it with a fake shadow that looks, and acts, like the real thing. Ramon figures that he has gotten a great deal; the ability to create gold for nothing. That is, until the day that Ramon is also chased out of the local village as some sort of monster. The problem with his fake shadow is that it does not shrink or grow depending on the time of day; it is the same size, all the time.

Ramon receives a letter from home, and is told to forget the gold; make a love potion, instead. He creates one on his own, and during a visit home, it is given to a visiting Duke. The potion nearly kills the Duke, and causes great embarrassment to the family. He is bedridden for several days, during which time Ramonís sister is the only one who can get near him. In the meantime, back at the castle, with much patience and diligence, Ramon finds the combination to the box of shadows. He releases several shadows, including his own, and that of a young woman. He brings it to the charwoman, not knowing if it is the right one; it is. Ramon figures that the shadow of the young woman will turn into an elderly crone. To his delight, the transformation goes the other way, and the charwoman turns into a young woman. After they escape from the wizard, the next problem concerns Ramonís family. Since she is not of noble blood, will they accept her as Ramonís bride?

From the first few paragraphs, the reader will know that they are in the hands of a master. Dunsany is generally considered the most influential author in the entire fantasy field. Stories like this will justify such a claim. It is very well done from beginning to end, and will get the reader looking at their shadow in a whole new way.

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The OOBE File, Harry Highstreet, PublishAmerica, 2004

Hubert Wright is an American Army private serving on a missile base in England. One day, he falls asleep while on duty, and suddenly finds himself outside his body; he is having an out-of-body experience. In his astral travels, he meets a man who calls himself Roger Matthews, who asks for a tour of the base, including the secret parts.

Meantime, Wrightís body has been found. Sleeping on duty is a serious offense, and he doesnít have anything like a good explanation, so Wright stays out of his body. Because no one knows what to do with it, his body is moved to the base hospital. Wrightís spirit meets that of a young woman named Cora, the other patient at the hospital.

The ability of two of the base officers, Captain Razig and Doc Thomlin, to be permanently transferred off the base depends on an inspector coming for a visit. Everything is perfect, except for Private Wright. While the inspector is in Wrightís room, he returns to his body and tells everything to the inspector. Immediately, the inspector swears to secrecy everyone with any knowledge of the situation. They now find themselves in a Top Secret project. Paul Villeant, an intelligence agent who has been tracking Matthews for years, is called in. Matthews has experience on the wrong side of Middle East terrorism, so his wish to see the secret parts of the missile base does not bode well. The story moves to the Persian Gulf, where it becomes an old-fashioned thriller, half in the "real world," and half in the astral world.

This is not a complicated novel, possibly a young adult novel, but it is a very good novel about weird things going on all around us. It is easy to read, and the reader will not go wrong with this story.

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And the Angel with Television Eyes, John Shirley, Night Shade Books, 2001

Max Whitman is a moderately successful actor in present-day New York City. Cast member on a soap opera, he seems to have acquired a stalker who dresses exactly like his TV character. One day, the stalker is found dead in the middle of the street. Indications are that he was dropped from a great height.

In preparation for a big audition, Max agrees to spend some time in a sensory deprivation tank. His soul is taken to a place of tall buildings made of energy and hears voices talk to him like he is someone named Lord Redmark. Max also meets neon colored snakes in glass tubes, and harpies who look human, except for their wings of blue-black vinyl and mini-TV cameras for eyes. A door seems to have been opened between "here" and "there." Max starts talking like Lord Redmark, and, more than once, he is attacked, in midtown Manhattan, by these vinyl-winged harpies.

Quantum theory speculates about each physical body having an interrelated body made solely of subatomic particles, a "soul." Such bodiless beings do exist on their own, and they are called plasmagnomes. They are divided into two factions, one of which is ready to declare war on mankind. Manís computers, cell phones and other electromagnetic generators are causing real problems in the plasma world. Antoinette, a friend of Maxís, does human-looking metal sculptures. More than once, he sees what looks like her sculptures coming to life. Max is taken deep beneath the streets of Manhattan, where he meets people who have turned into various beings. Their true, plasmagnome self has been awakened; Antoinette becomes one of them. To put it simply, reality is being turned upside down and pulled outside out.

John Shirley seems to make a habit of exploring parts of the human psyche that few other writers even wish to visit. In a way, this book is vintage John Shirley; very weird and very, very good.

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To Save the World, Heather Hayashi, Synergy Books, 2006

On the planet Arhka, Teregians and Vampires, two humanoid races with plenty of reason to hate each other, are forced into a temporary alliance against a new, alien enemy, the yukai mi. In the middle of this are dropped three people from present-day Earth; a teenage girl named Stephanie, Elise, her mother, and Eris, Stephanieís best friend. They got there due to a magic ring kept by Eliseís father. When Elise was Stephanieís age, she spent some time on Arhka. Back on Earth, she tried to tell her family about it and was subjected to twenty years of psychiatrists, institutions and psychotropic drugs. Elise is not happy to be back.

Arhka is run by a sort of magic that revolves around a strange energy called ithírya. During her previous visit, Elise got pretty good at manipulating it. She refuses requests to stay and help the Vampire-Teregian alliance, and takes the two girls back to Earth. Elise and Eris are ready to forget that Arhka exists, but for Stephanie, the transition back to high school is not so easy. After an unintended demonstration of ithírya in the middle of her school cafeteria, and after yukai mi spaceships invade Earth, looking for the three of them, a trip back to Arhka is now a requirement. Whether they like it or not, Eris, Elise and Stephanie are now involved in a bloody, interplanetary war. After a night of basic training, Stephanie shows that her abilities with ithírya are as strong, or stronger, than that of her mother.

Here is a novel that is quite good. First of a series, it has all the elements of good science fiction epic tales, with strong female characters. The story might take a bit of time to get going, but itís worth reading.

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The Chosen of Azar, Carol Kluz, WestBank Publishing, 2007

In the Fifth Age of Life, it is time to prepare for the long-prophesied battle between the forces of the gods Azar and Condragon. The Chosen of Azar, five young people who were chosen at birth, and have no idea of their status, are brought to a castle called Havenís Hold for training. Among them are Jenda, who believes that rules are made to be broken (or severely bent), and Beni, whose magic is wild and untamed, but may be as powerful as that of Mo Demz, a nearly immortal wizard who is leader of Havenís Hold. As time goes on, everyone realizes that when Beni says that danger is coming, the warning is taken very seriously.

As part of their training, the Chosen are sent into the wilderness, in small groups, to find their talismans. These are small items, about one or two inches square, that will help them in the coming battle. The Chosen have no idea just where the talismans are, but feel a sort of spiritual magnetic field when they are getting close. Naturally, the talismans are not just sitting on the ground, or on a rock, waiting to be found. They are well hidden, and are guarded by hideous creatures like churls. These are man-sized beasts that are all sharp teeth and claws, and can kill a person in an instant.

Meantime, Condragon is not idle. Zorad, one of his disciples, is already spreading evil throughout the land, so the training of the Chosen, back at Havenís Hold shifts into high gear. Part of the prophecy is that everything will be decided by an ultimate battle between Condragon and one of the Chosen.

Part one of a series, this is surprisingly good. It has good characters, and an engaging story. This is also a fine book with which to introduce young people to the rest of the fantasy field.

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The Mars Run, Chris Gerrib, Lulu Press, 2006

In the last half of the 21st century, Janet Pilgrim has just graduated from high school, and is looking forward to college. That is, until her father, who invests in one get-rich-quick scheme after another, tells her that he is bankrupt. Not wanting to face her friends, and after considering joining the Army, Janet signs on to a cargo ship to Mars. Being a working astronaut is the lowest form of life in the Universe, but one cargo run will fund several years of college.

Somewhere between Earth and Mars, the ship on which Janet is traveling is seized by space pirates, killing the three other members of the crew. Janet is taken prisoner, and given a choice; willingly join the pirates, or get a one-way trip through an airlock. It is not a hard decision. Janet has several moments of doing what she has to do to stay alive.

Mars is sparsely populated, so Janetís first escape attempt does not get very far. She gets a metal slave collar affixed around her neck, and spends more than one night in a cage. On the way back to Earth, another ship is seized, but, this time, there are casualties among the pirates.

To turn their booty into cash, several members of the crew land in the Central African Empire, your average corrupt African regime. The Emperor makes it clear that if they donít become leaders of his new space pirate fleet, they can forget about getting any payment for their pirate activities. Back in space, they attack a larger passenger ship, which has the nerve, and the ability, to fight back.

This is a first novel that is actually pretty good. In space, sometimes man is the biggest enemy. It is not a young adult novel, and it is worth reading.

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The Woman and the Raven, Marlene vor der Hake, Booksurge LLC, 2007

Based on Icelandic myths, this story takes place in the distant past, when trolls and elves still walked the earth. A woman lives alone in a cottage, far from anyone else. It is full to overflowing with books, parchments and scrolls, many written in languages that were dead even back then. She yearns to return to the stars, but her broomstick refuses to function, for she has lost the magic.

A raven-wizard gives her three tasks, in order to help heal a broken world. The woman must return a runic sword to its proper owner, a knight who has been dead for many years. She must, single-handedly, defeat a hideous wyvern living in a huge lake (think of the Loch Ness Monster, but with a nastier disposition). Then, the woman must find and return a large blue gem, the Stone of Antariel, to its rightful owners, a race of elves. Itís not as easy as it sounds; the forces of evil are keeping a close eye on the woman and her progress.

This story has a different, almost mystical, feel to it, and itís really good. Itís a short novel, about 100 pages, and anyone who enjoys ancient, mythical stories will enjoy this one.

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End of Issue 40

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