Monday, October 6, 2008

The Door Within by Wayne Thomas Batson

This is a great book if you have fond memories of C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. The Door Within is the first book of a young adult trilogy.
Batson casts young Aiden as the hero of the story. In this book, he has to move across the country when his grandfather becomes ill. In his grandfather's basement, he finds 3 ancient scrolls. They contain the history of a faraway land called the Realm. Aiden gets to cross over to the new land. Once he is there, the real adventure begins. You will enjoy meeting Captain Valithor, Gwenne, and the other knights. Aiden and the other knights go into battle against the forces of Paragory.
An excellent book for any fan of Narnia. Batson will keep you on the edge of your seat until the last page.

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

I have seen Pratchett's novels on the bookstore shelves for years but never bought one. Then SF Signal started the Great Pratchett Reading Project. They are going to read and post reviews of all the Discworld novels this year. After reading their first reviews, I realized what I had been missing. Terry Pratchett combines my love of fantasy novels with the great British style of humor done by Monty Python to make a unique series.

If Going Postal is a normal book in this series, I am a fan for life. This book contains drama, interesting characters, logical plot development, and humor that is very rare. The author makes all of this seem very natural. I don't know that I have ever laughed this much when reading a book.

The plot alone was different that the usual fantasy novel. A swindler named Moist Van Lipwig is sentenced to death by hanging. But instead of dying, he is given a possible way out. Moist can either choose to die or accept the position of Postmaster. He choose the government job thinking that he can just escape once he starts in the post office. What he doesn't plan on is a golem being assigned to prevent him from leaving his post. Moist takes up the challenge and tries to turn the post office into a money making business. It is hard to believe that I was kept on the edge of my seat by a novel about a post office.

Pratchett is excellent at developing characters. As I read the book, I felt as if I got to know the "people". I hope that the author revisits some of the characters in other books. I look forward to reading more of the adventures of Discworld.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

"All the Things You Are" by Mike Resnick

The first science fiction magazine that I subscribed to was Galaxy. At that time a new editor by the name of Jim Baen had taken charge. Jim published stories by Roger Zelazny, David Drake, Arsen Darnay and many others that became favorites of mine. Galaxy was great. Jim went on to establish his own publishing company. Last year science fiction lost one of the best when Jim died. I am happy that Jim Baen's Universe(and Baen Books) will continue the legacy that started with Jim's editorship of Galaxy. After reading Eric Flint's editorial, I am confident that Universe has a bright future.

The lineup for this issue is a good mix of classic and new writers. You know you are in for a treat when a magazine can boast authors such as Gene Wolfe, John Barnes, Gregory Benford, John Ringo, Eric Flint, and Mike Resnick.

The first story in this issue sold me on the magazine. Mike Resnick's All the Things You Are is what I would call a classic science fiction story. It starts with an unexplainable mystery, the main character pieces together part of the puzzle and goes to another planet to solve the riddle. Reading this story brought back memories of Isaac Asimov's short stories. That is one of the highest compliments I can give to a story. Mike continues to be one of my favorite authors.

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

My review of the first book in the excellent Dresden Files series can be found by clicking on The Bookshelf Reviews. I will be looking at getting caught up on the series during the next few months.

"The Bookseller of Bastet" by John G. Hemry

An interesting short story by John Hemry. Hemry also writes the Lost Fleet series as Jack Campbell. I have the second Fleet book on my To Be Read stack. Based on this story I will have to move it up in the stack.

Aaron D'abu runs a book store on the planet called Bastet. When war brakes out, Earth sends a diplomat to try to negotiate peace. This is the story of the diplomat's encounter with the bookseller. Any fan of books should search out this touching story while it is on the shelves. It will make you stop and think the next time you visit a book store.

Thank you, John Hemry. This is a story that I will remember for a long time.

The Rose by Charles L. Harness

I remember when I "discovered" the science fiction magazines. It started with Galaxy and Worlds of IF when Jim Baen was editing them. Soon after that, Analog(edited by Ben Bova), Fantasy and Science Fiction(Ed Ferman), Amazing Stories and Fantastic(both edited by Ted White) were added to my must read stack. Some of my favorite science fiction memories are from these magazines.

I fondly remember...

...the excitement of a new Amber novel by Roger Zelazny in Galaxy.

...Brigadier Ffellowes by Sterling Lanier in Fantasy and Science Fiction.

...Poul Anderson's A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows in Worlds of IF.

...the many stories by John Varley in Galaxy.

...Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game in Analog.

I could keep doing this indefinitely but I did have a reason for listing these stories. The next one I was going to list was The Araqnid Window by Charles L. Harness. It appeared in the December 1974(hard to believe it has been that many long ago) issue of Amazing Stories.

The Araqnid Window had it all. How can you resist a mystery involving an ancient civilization on an alien world? Harness had me hooked from the start. I heard rumors of his novels but never saw them. A few years ago I was in a used book store and spotted The Rose and The Ring of Ritournel. I practically ran to the register to check out. I took them home and put them on the shelf. Sure, I would occasionally take them down and look at them. But I always put them back. I was afraid of disappointment. I was barely a teenager when I read The Araqnid Window. What if Harness was not the writer that I remembered?

After reading Carl Anderson's comments about Orson Scott Card and Isaac Asimov on his Stainless Steel Droppings site, I decided to read The Rose for the Sci-Fi Experience 2008.

The Rose is far from disappointing. In the introduction, Michael Moorcock says that Arthur C. Clarke, Damon Knight, Brian Aldiss, and Judith Merril have praised this story. I can see why.

The Rose is more of an experience than a story. The basic story is the final battle between science and art. I hesitate to say more than that. You have to read this story to understand it.

The focus is on three main characters.

On the side of art is Anna van Tuyl(composer and psychologist) and Ruy Jacques(Anna's lover). Opposing them is Ruy's wife-Martha(she is working on a weapon that will prove that science is superior to art). You will have a hard time finding three more dynamic characters.

If you don't already have this book, find it. It is a unique addition to any library.

Highly recommended.

John (Jack Campbell) Hemry Interview

Thank you to John Hemry for doing this interview. I will comment afterwards.

FOCUS ON SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY(FOSFF): I picked up the three "Lost Fleet" novels. Why are you writing them
under a pen name?

JOHN HEMRY(JH): The pen name was required because of the way the publishing industry works
these days. The major bookstore chains use software to order books, and the software bases orders on earlier sales. If the software decides an author's sales aren't good enough, then it orders fewer copies of their next book to be displayed on the bookstore shelves, which means fewer copies sell, which means it orders even less next time, which means even less sell then, and so on. Like many other authors, I'd been caught in that death spiral, but using a pen name immediately resets the situation since the software sees you as a new writer and orders enough copies for the stores to give the next book a chance of taking off. Happily, this is what happened with the Lost Fleet series.

FOSFF: I can see the influence of Battlestar Galactica and Gene Roddenbery's
Andromeda. Were they part of what inspired the "Lost Fleet"?

JH: The inspirations were actually far older. I'd been wondering for some time if
it was possible to do a plausible space-based version of Xenophon's March of the Ten Thousand. Part of the Lost Fleet derives directly from that ancient scenario. The other inspiration lay in old legends about heroes, which often claimed the hero wasn't really dead, but only sleeping and would awaken to save the day when the need was greatest. King Arthur is perhaps the most familiar example of that story. But such heroes were probably just people who saw themselves as not special, and would be amazed and shocked to learn about the legends which had grown around them. So I imagined such a hero, one who had no choice but to try to live up to the legend because otherwise the people looking to him for hope would be truly lost. Another historical aspect of that was considering how a trained Roman military officer appearing in the Dark Ages would have been able to apply forgotten lessons on how to fight smart as well as bravely, if the knights could be convinced to listen to him.

FOSFF: How many "Lost Fleet" novels are you planning?

JH: Three more novels are already done or contracted. The fourth (Valiant) comes
out in June, 2008, and I'm working on Relentless and Victorious.


The fleet actually gets home at the end of Relentless, but there's a great
deal left for the hero and the fleet to do so the story arc started in Dauntless ends in Victorious.

FOSFF: "The Bookseller of Bastet" was an excellent short story. Did a particular incident in your life lead you to writing it?

JH: Thank you. Some time ago I read an appreciation about an Iraqi bookseller in Baghdad who had been killed in a car bombing. I felt a need to somehow acknowledge people like that, the ones who lived for books and kept selling books no matter what, but it took a while for the right story to develop. I'm glad it seems to have worked, because I do think those who treasure books are special.

FOSFF: Did any of the classic science fiction authors influence you? Based on the stories I have seen, I would think Gordon R. Dickson and Poul Anderson.

JH: Poul Anderson was always a favorite, and a bit depressing once I started writing, because whenever I thought I was getting the hang of things I'd read something of his and think "I'll never be as good as that." I also read Dickson, Heinlein, and H. Beam Piper, and a lot of Andre Norton. Zelazny is another favorite, as is Leigh Brackett. I'm certain they all influenced me a great deal. My novelette "Lady Be Good" was very much a tribute to Brackett.

FOSFF: Do you have any future stories(short stories or novels) that you can tell
us about?

JH: I never know when a solid short story is going to come together. I have three partially completed right now, but don't know if they'll work out. I do want to write more of my time travel stories featuring my temporal interventionists (the latest being "These Are the Times" in the November 2007 Analog). My novel work is focused on the last two Lost Fleet books right now. After those, I'll probably do related books in the same universe if the demand exists. I also want to try to continue the JAG in Space series which preceeded the Lost Fleet but didn't find a big enough audience then even though the books were well-reviewed. I have a Young Adult SF series (suitable for adults) which my agent is trying to sell right now, and I'm also considering trying to get approval to do a sequel to Piper's Space Viking and Cosmic Computer novels.

FOSFF: What do you hope to be writing 10-15 years from now?

JH: Stories that people like to read, and perhaps help them think about things
they might not otherwise have considered. I like writing SF and to a lesser extent fantasy, but I can also see doing some historical novels and alternate histories.

FOSFF: What are your thoughts on the future of science fiction?

JH: I think SF has a good future as long as it doesn't take itself too seriously. By that I mean it has to remain focused on telling the story, rather than trying to be Literary. I think SF lost a lot of ground to fantasy because fantasy remained focused on stories of wonder and possibilities. One of the early reviews of Dauntless suggested it was the sort of story that could have been serialized in John Campbell's Astounding, which was meant as a put-down, but I've heard from many people who said that motivated them to buy the book because they missed those kinds of stories. Homer's Odyssey was about people exploring new worlds, facing amazing challenges and meeting a variety of strange beings (which also describes the original Star Trek). That sort of tale has been around as long as humanity, and when told well it still captivates. A good story will endure. Writing one is the hard part.

My favorite line from the interview was "
One of the early reviews of Dauntless suggested it was the sort of story that could have been serialized in John Campbell's Astounding, which was meant as a put-down, but I've heard from many people who said that motivated them to buy the book because they missed those kinds of stories." This is enough to get me to buy his books. John Campbell's Astounding was one of the highlights of the Golden Age. Many of the classic science fiction stories appeared there. I don't know where science fiction would be today without the influence of Campbell on authors such as Asimov and Heinlein. We need to remember and build upon the legacy left by the classic authors.

I hope he gets the rights to do sequels to H. Beam Piper's books. I read Space Viking and Cosmic Computer many years ago and enjoyed both of them.

I have picked up the first 3 Lost Fleet novels and will be reviewing them in the future.

The Lost Fleet: Dauntless by Jack Campbell

Fans of good old fashioned science fiction epics can rejoice. Jack Campbell's The Lost Fleet series is a classic in the making.

From John(Jack Campbell) Hemry's webpage...
The Alliance has been fighting the Syndics for a century - and losing badly. Now its fleet is crippled and stranded in enemy territory. Their only hope is a man who's emerged from a century-long hibernation to find he had been heroically idealized beyond belief . Captain John "Black Jack" Geary's legendary exploits are known to every schoolchild. Revered for his heroic "last stand" in the early days of the war, he was presumed dead. But a century later, Geary miraculously returns from survival hibernation and reluctantly takes command of the Alliance fleet as it faces annihilation by the Syndics. Appalled by the hero-worship around him, Geary is nevertheless a man who will do his duty. And he knows that bringing the stolen Syndic hypernet key safely home is the Alliance's one chance to win the war. But to do that, Geary will have to live up to the impossibly heroic "Black Jack" legend.

Hemry does a good job of showing the downside of being considered a legend. If the Alliance fleet is going to survive, Captain Geary will have to overcome his own doubts and build on the legend of "Black Jack".

Fans of the fiction of Poul Anderson will quickly get pulled into the universe of "Black Jack" Geary. The author shows an understanding of how battles might be fought in outer space. Enough mysteries still need solved to make me anxious to read the other books in the series. This series is going on my shelf alongside stories such as Dominic Flandry, Berserker and Dorsai.

John(Jack Campbell) Hemry's webpage.

Interview with the author.