Fall 98/Winter 99 Reading
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Rating system

***** Excellent and not just by airport standards
****  Very good. usually something fresh unique or quirky about these books
***+ 1/2 A good book.  Well written and I enjoyed it.  I would call this my Dick Francis rating.  The plot may be formulaic but it's always a page turner    
*** Read the whole thing.  This is often a some what generous rating.  If I get through the flight I'm  happy.
** + 1/2 A book with this rating means that I did read the whole thing but there is some significant flaw   in  the book.  That means it's ok to pick it up in the airport under emergency circumstances   but  not  to buy in a bookstore.  
**  Skimmed it for the few good parts I could find. Definitely only purchase under true emergency situations (as defined by there being nothing else on the shelf  you haven't read)
* Hurled the book across the room and wrote nasty comments at the amazon.com review site. A pure waste of money (buy magazines instead)

 

March 1999

 

Queen of Demons by David Drake          Michael Page (Narrator)
Synopsis: The second epic volume in the grand saga begin in "Lord of the Isles". As Garric, Sharina, Cashel, and Tenoctris move toward their confrontation with contending forces of evil, the cosmic forces of magic are reaching a millennial peak

This may be a case where the recording actually makes the book better.  I struggled through the first book but much of what irritated me there didn't bother me when I listened to the tape.  Drake writes one chapter per character.  Once I understood that I simply accepted and enjoyed the book.  Page's narration was very good.  Some of the reviews at Amazon have objected to the fact that there isn't any physical romance in the book.  

 

donnerjack.jpg (2441 bytes) Donnerjack by Roger Zelazny and Jane Lindskold ****
Synopsis:
There are two realities; the real world, Verité, and the virtual world, Virtù. When Donnerjack--one of the architects of Virtù--loses his lover Ayradyss, he makes a pact with Death to return her from the dead. In return, Death demands their first-born child, who will be the first baby born from a Verité/Virtù union, and a force to be reckoned with in both worlds.

An interesting book.  Not quite the one-two punch that I usually find in his best short stories (A Rose for Ecclesiastics or the Engine at Heart Spring Well) but a good read none the less.  The culmination of the scene where Donnerjack Sr. stages a major confrontation with the Lord of the Deep Fields is typically Zelazny in tone.  The Book ends with enough left open to have supported a possible sequel but now that Zelazney is no longer with us I'm not sure that Jane Lindskold could support the book on her own.

polgara.jpg (2893 bytes) Polgara the Sorceress by David and Leigh Eddings ****
Synopsis: 
Her mind guided by a mother she will not see again for centuries, Polgara beings life in the Vale, growing up in her uncle's Beldin's tower and in the prehistoric Tree that is the heart of that magical place. There she first learns the reaches of her powers and assumes the bird shapes that will serve her on her far-flung travels.

If you've read the series ( Belgariad and Malloreon   ) you might ask why on earth you'd want to read another rehash of the same story.  Because it's like having a wonderful chat abut old times with a good friend would be my answer

bellwether.jpg (2590 bytes) BellWether by Connie Willis **** 1/2
Sandra Foster works for HiTek studying fads from hula-hoops to miniature golf. She's looking for a fad catalyst, that one person or thing behind the start of Something New, be it books on angels or new hairstyles. Trouble is, funding is in short supply at HiTek, and everyone is going after the Niebnitz Grant, a hefty, anonymous cash award that's given out to promising research.

There are lots of books that use chaos theory as a backdrop (I think in the hopes of attracting readers) Ms. Willis uses it as the central core of her novel and it's not only wonderfully entertaining its actually well researched and an interesting approach to the subject

 

cuircuit of heaven.jpg (2144 bytes) Circuit of Heaven by Dennis Danvers ****
Synopsis: Justine Ingham is newly arrived in the "bin," a virtual environment. But things aren't going too smoothly, since she's  dreaming someone else's dreams and remembering someone else's memories. Things get more confusing when she meets a young man named Nemo. The two fall instantly in love, but their relationship seems doomed from the start, because Nemo would rather die than live in the bin

Classic Science Fiction and deservedly worthy of praise.  Strangely enough it reminds me of some of the early Heinlein.   The writing style isn't the same but the characterizations harkens back to a time when character's had values and ethics and struggled to live an honorable life in a confusing world.

 

darkwater.jpg (2279 bytes) Dark Water's Embrace by Stephen Leigh ***
Synopsis:
Struggling with rising infertility and infant mortality, repopulation is essential for a group of humans on a distant planet. Anais, a brilliant female doctor must find the link between the mysteries of the planet's past and the plight of the humans in order for her society to survive.

This is another of the $3.99 books from Avon.  I bought it largely to support the notion that there's a market for cheaper paperbacks. Other than that it's a solid airport read.  Most of the book left me with a "been there-done that" sort of feeling.  Left Hand of Darkness is better (at least in my memory) and the spontaneous evolution that the planet supposedly engenders simply didn't work for me. 

 

ship of magic.jpg (3131 bytes) Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb   *****
Synopsis: Bingtown is a hub of exotic trade and home to a merchant nobility famed for its liveships--rare vessels carved from wizardwood, which ripens magically into sentient awareness. The fortunes of one of Bingtown's oldest families rest on the newly awakened liveship Vivacia.  But the fate of the Vestrit family--and the ship--may ultimately lie in the hands of an outsider. The ruthless pirate Kennit seeks a way to capture his own liveship and bend it to his will....

I really enjoyed this book.  The characters were unique while at the same time being more realistic than any I remember encountering in a novel in a long time.  Kennit is a bad man who through happenstance and  magic ( he had a charm bound to his wrist that wears his face and speaks with his voice) ends up doing good and creating an aura around himself that hides his innate evil.  The interesting thing is that none of his actions are done with the intent of deception.  He's quite comfortable being bad but isn't enough of a fool to disabuse people of their notions. 

February 1999

 

somplace to be flying.jpg (2490 bytes) Someplace to be Flying by Charles de Lint *****
Synopsis:
The animal people walk among us. Native Americans call them the First People, but they have never left, and they claim they city for their own. Not only have Hank and Lily (our hero and heroine) stumbled onto a secret, they've stumbled into a war. And in this battle for the city's soul, nothing is quite as it appears.

Fantastic!  Absolutely fresh, different and a page turner.  I've hadn't read any of Charles de Lint and I simply didn't know what I was missing.

snow crash.jpg (2779 bytes) Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson ****
Synopsis:
In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo's Cosa Nostra Inc., but it the Metaverse he's a warrior prince. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that's striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse.

This book has 169 reviews at Amazon.com and it still rates 4 1/2 stars.  I had trouble getting started and then wow!   It was fresh, fun and actually had some substance in it's explorations of Sumerian myth and its undercurrents of neurolinguistic programming (see Babylon 17 for an earlier incarnation of this plot line).  The plot did fall apart at the end but the experience getting there was satisfying enough that I really didn't care.

spellsongwar.jpg (3052 bytes) Spellsong War by L.E. Modesitt ***
Synopsis:
Anna Marshal, who has been pulled by a sorcerer from her boring life as a music instructor in Ames, Iowa, to the world of Erde, is now regent for the kingdom of Defalk. Now she must defend Defalk against the greedy rulers of neighboring kingdoms who see it as a weakened state

The problem with this book aside for the usual Modesitt criticism of the annoyance of his proclivity for second person, present tense, redundant phrasing and general lack of subtly; is that it is nothing but a war story.  One of the strengths of his first book in this series was that his characters were unique and behaved in non stereotypical manners.  In this book its just battle after battle and the book just plods along.  Still I read the book from cover to cover and will buy the third in the series.  If I read fewer books I would probably have purged Modesitt from my list but given my voracious appetite for reading material I can always count on his books being a solid three and sometimes (like the Spellsong Sorceress) even better

January 1999

uncrownedking.jpg (11601 bytes) The Uncrowned King (The Sun Sword , No 2)  by Michelle West ****
Synopsis:
   The uneasy peace within the Dominion's borders was shattered when treacherous forces seized the crown by slaughtering all members of the ruling Clan Leonne. Now, in a neighboring empire, the sole surviving heir to the throne, a young man never destined to rule, must prove his worthiness to claim the crown, even as his family's murderers and their sinister demonic allies plot his doom.

I bought this book months ago and it sat on the shelf.  When I picked it up again this month, I found after about 20 pages that too much of it wasn't making sense so I went back and reread the first book in the Sun Sword series.  I'm unsure exactly why these books are marketed as two independent series.  To get the most out of this book you really need to have read all three of her previous novels, which is a joy and not a sentence.  There is just so much in these books and her characters are unique unto themselves.  The only reason this book is a 4 star and not 5 is that after having read some of the books twice I still feel I should go back with a pen and paper and draw out some of her subplots to make sure I've got everything.

 

brokencrown.jpg (2784 bytes) The Broken Crown (Sun Sword, No 1)  by Michelle West ****
Synopsis:
  The Dominion has kept an uneasy peace within its border since that long-ago time when the clan Leonne was gifted with the magic of the Sun Sword and was raised up to reign over the five noble clans. But now treachery strikes at the very heart of the Dominion as two never meant to rule seek to seize the crown by slaughtering all of clan Leonne blood.

This book is a radical shift from her first two books.  The story moves into the Southern Dominion and while there are continuing characters, this is the one book of hers that can be read out of sequence.   The focus of this story is on the lives of powerful women in a society where they are little better than slaves or toys.  What's appealing about the story is that it never becomes a feminist diatribe.  All too often authors make the mistake of ascribing our contemporary sensibilities onto characters in a different society.  The women in this book understand their world and they plot and scheme to achieve their goals without overturning the system.

 

huntersdeath.jpg (2950 bytes) Hunter's Death by Michelle West ****
Synopsis:
  Now, at the risk of breaking their Oath, Hunter Gilliam and his huntbrother Stephen must journey to the ancient city once ruled by the Lord of Hell himself--a being who again seeks to impose his reign over the mortal lands. This novel continues the brilliant fantasy saga begun in Hunter's Oath.

Ms. West's second novel in this series is a riveting adventure story but what got my attention and left a lasting impression on me when I first read the book was the character of Jewel and The Terraffan and structure of the ten houses.  Too much of what I read is a retread of a story I've read in a thousand other places.  Not so with these characters.

 

huntersoath.jpg (3118 bytes) Hunter's Oath by Michelle West ****
Synopsis:
Once a year the Sacred Hunt must be called, in which the Hunter God's prey would be one of the Lords or his huntbrother. This was the Hunter's Oath, sworn to by each Lord and his huntbrother. It was the Oath taken by Gilliam of Elseth and the orphan boy Stephen--and the fulfillment of their Oath would prove the kind of destiny from which legends were made

Good adventure, good plot.  Not the equal to the rest of her books but you have to start somewhere.  The relationship of Hunt Brothers is fascinating and I only wish she'd made this book a little longer and developed it more.

 

December 1998

lordofislands.jpg (3149 bytes) Lord of the Isles by David Drake ** 1/2
Synopsis:
Mysteriously transported one thousand years into the future after a cataclysm destroys the empire of the Isles, a woman sorcerer finds herself in a small town, far from the centers of power, where she and a small group of individuals become the focus of a new struggle for dominance

This book didn't really holding my interest.  The characters didn't quite captivate me so it was easy to put it down and pick up another book.  The plot seems strong with the exception that I had the feeling his pacing was off.  I obviously haven't read the second book but my thought is that the story simply ran away with Drake and that the book suffers as a result of pacing more so than anything else.   The book consists of three separate story lines, Sharina's adventures with Pele, Garric and Cashel's journey with Liane and friends and Ina's wicked weaving.  What bothered me about this approach is that the subplots don't weave together.  Thinking about it, the book would have been much stronger if each separate plot line contributed something to the over all story rather than simply recounting how the characters spent their time.  (Note:  I've since listened to the next two novels of this series on tape and loved them!!!)

 

mainline.gif (4211 bytes) Mainline by Deborah Christian ****
Synopsis:
Bystanders, beware. Reva the assassin always gets her man, and anyone caught in the crossfire won't live to tell about it. Reva has the unique ability to see different lines of causality spread out before her. When she chooses any one of them, the other possibilities fade into nothingness and the new reality becomes her Mainline.

I think this just sneaks a four rating based on the originality of her story.  The heroine is an assassin who avoids ever being got by changing time lines (i.e. moving to a parallel world.  The problem happens when she meets some people that she doesn't want to abandon.  I'm anxiously awaiting book two to see where the story is really going.

 

bholdereye.jpg (3505 bytes) Beholder's Eye by Julie E. Czerneda *** 1/2
Synopsis: They are the last survivors of their race, beings who live on and communicate through energy, who are capable of assuming the shape of any other species. When their youngest member is assigned to a world considered safe to explore, she is captured by the natives. To escape, she must violate the most important rule of her kind, and reveal the existence of her species to a fellow prisoner--a human being.

Good book but doesn't quite take the leap up another 1/2 point and I can't put my finger on why.

November 1998

murderinsolid.jpg (2273 bytes) Murder in the Solid State by Wil McCarthy ** 1/2
Synopsis: At the dawn of the 21st century, the "molecular fabrication" industry is poised to remake the world in its image.  But life on the cutting edge can be dangerous; against a backdrop of scientific breakthrough and political oppression, graduate researcher David Sanger is implicated in the death of a colleague, and quickly finds himself caught up in the machinations of those who would shape the future to their own ends.

The first part of the book is alright and  Bowser is a rather appealing character.  Unfortunately after Bowser leaves the stage the book simply plods along.  If you want a cyberspace novel read Trouble and her Friends by Melissa Scott, it's a much better book

Einstein's bridge.jpg (2337 bytes) Einstein's Bridge  by John Cramer  ***
Synopsis:  In a newborn 21st century, the genius minds at the Super conducting Super Collider (SSC) project in Texas have inadvertently discovered tunnels through space-time that connect our planet with hitherto unimagined alternate universes.  But at what cost? For an ancient, hostile, life-annihilating entity has now locked into a faint, persisting signal emanating from a distant and uncommonly fertile feeding ground called Earth.

This book is a bit of a mix.  Some of the early writing is horrible beyond belief.  In fact I'm going to copy out certain sections for my writing web site and use them as examples of what not to do.   On the other hand just when I was ready to hurl it across the room it got better.   The ending is silly but since the book is one of the special $3.99 paperbacks I felt the value proposition was excellent.

promisedland.jpg (11314 bytes) Promised land by Connie Willis and Cynthia Felice  **1/2
Synopsis:
It has been 15 years since Delanna Milleflores set foot on Keramos. Now her mother has died, and she has returned only to settle and sell her estate. But Keramos has some surprising laws. To sell her farm, Delanna must first live on it for one year. And along with her land comes one Tarlton Tanner, heir to the adjoining farm. A man who, at the moment of her mother's death, became Delanna's husband.

I have always been favorably impressed the writing of both Ms. Willis and Ms. Felice so I bought this book in delightful anticipation of an excellent read. To say I was disappointed is putting in mildly. The plot was trite, the characters were cardboard and that's only judging it as a light romance novel. I know it's possible to write what is, IMHO, a good science fiction romance. Anne McCaffrey did it in Restoree and Ann Maxwell did it in Timeshadow Rider and Fire Dancer.

I've been accused of lacking the sense of humor necessary to appreciate this type of book so I’ll simply say that I personally didn’t feel the book represented the style I expected from either author and being the curmudgeon that I am I was disappointed

 

frameshift.jpg (2505 bytes) Frameshift by Robert Sawyer *** 1/2
Synopsis: In working through the intricate but unrelenting plot, the reader will encounter
Holocaust victims and avengers, a dedicated geneticist with an incurable genetic disease, an
unrepentant Nazi hiding out as an actuary, page after page of bold scientific extrapolation, the cloning of Neanderthal DNA, dueling helicopters, mind reading and murder, not necessarily in that order

Interesting book.  Good enough to get me to put Sawyer on my reading list, but something was vaguely off which kept it from getting a 4 star rating.  What I really like about the novel was the exploration of genetics, accidental mutations and where society might be heading. It really was a classic science fiction.

October 1998

qunatummurder.jpg (3091 bytes) A Quantum Murder by Peter F. Hamilton ****
Synopsis:
A sequel to "Mindstar Rising".  Greg Mandel, a freelance operative whose telepathic abilities give him a crucial edge in the high-tech world of the 21st century. Mandel must investigate the murder of professor Edward Kitchener, a double Nobel laureate who had been researching quantum cosmology for the powerful Event Horizon conglomerate.

A murder mystery set in the not too distant future.  I've been reading the entire series in reverse order and it hasn't really impacted the qualities of the tales.  There's something about the character of Greg Mandel that appeals to me.  Sort of a Harrison Ford character in print.   Honest, honorable, with a sense of humor and compassion.  The actual plot probably isn't the strongest but it shows of all his characters to best advantage.

mindstar.jpg (2602 bytes) Mindstar Rising by Peter F. Hamilton ****
Synopsis:
A veteran of Gulf War II, telepath Greg Mandel enters the high-tech world of computer crime, zero-gravity smuggling, and artificial intelligence when an elusive saboteur threatens a powerful organization and the very future of humankind

Mindstar rising is the first novel in the Greg Mandel trilogy and concentrates for the most part on the rather painful transition back from a totalitarian society into something that looks more like England as we know it today.  The book has some superficial touches of cyberpunk (brain implants and mean streets) but Hamilton is a powerful storyteller and the characters remain unique and engaging.

 

exilewaiting.jpg (2818 bytes) The Exile Waiting by Vonda N. McIntyre ***
Synopsis: A young man ends up aboard a starship escorting a friend home to die.  The planet they eventually land on is a bleak world where the post holocaust weather has forced most of the inhabitants underground.  He meets and befriends a telepathic thief who is desperate to leave her shattered world.

This only got three stars on my reread primarily because I think my tastes have changed.  In the past I probably would have listed this as small but elegant, in the tradition of Roger Zelasney's A Rose for Ecclesiastes.  I felt I was truly in McIntyre's world.  In her mind hearing the characters as they spoke to her but what I didn't get was some of the richness of tone that I'm sure she sees in her inner world.  (note: this is available from Barnes and Nobel in hardback - try the library first)

 

oathsmiraclestn.jpg (3020 bytes) Oaths and Miracles by Nancy Kress *** 1/2
Synopsis:
Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Kress uses her storytelling skills to tell a
story about science--and murder. FBI agent Robert Cavanaugh thinks he's on to something when the lover of a dead New York Mafioso is murdered in Las Vegas. The trail leads to Verico, a biotech company doing research with recombinant DNA, and to a horrifying conclusion.

This was a good read, which restores my faith in Nancy Kress.  Beggars in Spain is top notch but Beggars and Choosers and Beggars Ride are simply not up to par.  Oaths and Miracles is some what funky and Robert Cavanaugh is certainly not your run of the mill FBI agent unless you believe in the Fox Maulder school of agents, (he sends stream of consciousness doodles to his ex-wife).   Judy Kozinski on the other hand is sometimes pathetically real, as a woman who lost herself in a domineering and controlling husband and didn't even realize she was gone until he was murdered and she had to face life again on her own.  The book is really a mystery rather than science fiction, not that that affected my reading pleasure.  A definite recommend.  

 

Spring/Summer '98