Friday, March 2, 2012

Speculative Fiction Book Reviews

First reviewed in ConNotations Newszine in Issue #5 - October/November 2011

Book cover from
by Robert J. Sawyer

Ace Books, 2011, $25.95, 338 pages

www: WONDER follows www:WAKE and www: WATCH. These three books constitute a genuine trilogy - not a massively large single story that got published in three volumes, not a "trilogy" that expands into an unending series, but an actual trilogy like the Greek playwrights used to construct, each with its own thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, each contributing its part to a story arc; the ending is definitively The End, and a most satisfying one it is. All together, they make for one of the best SF reading experiences to come along in the last 3 years. I simply cannot say enough good things about these books - just, WOW!

If you haven't already discovered how good a writer Sawyer is, this is a great time to discover him, and to share the adventure. This series, with its young heroine, qualifies as SF/Young Adult cross-genre, and makes for an excellent gift set.

There are three subplots that develop and intertwine in these books. First, Caitlyn Decter, 15 years old and blind from birth, good at math and science with a strong online persona, is invited to participate in an experimental surgery that might make her sighted. Second, the world-wide web is developing sentience. And third, a bonobo-chimp hybrid named Hobo is at the heart of a research project studying cross-species communication. The potentials of cross-boundary communication is the theme at the heart of the trilogy.

In this, the third volume, Caitlyn her friends and family are trying to protect a still fragile Webmind from Government agents who want to shut it down while they still can. Webmind has some good ideas on how to demonstrate his benign nature, and he wins lots of friends as he uses his information sorting and synthesis skills to help humanity. Even so, said agents are ungrateful and terminally paranoid. While the US government tries to directly destroy the basis for Webmind's existence, the Chinese government erects a firewall that effectively divides Webmind in two separate entities - with disastrous results, for the parts are considerably less than the whole.

I refuse to provide spoilers, because the revelations are brilliant, and each reader deserves the chance to discover this treasure trove for him/herself. Not only are the plotlines intriguing, the characters are wonderful. These include Caitlyn's mother, an expert in Games Theory; Caitlyn's dad, a mathematical genius who happens to have Asperger's' Syndrome; Hobo, who confronts no less august body than the United Nations, and tells members the truth about themselves; and Wai-Jeng, a hacker who risks his life to make communication possible in Communist China. How can you not love a book in which a nerd with Asperger's is one of the heroes?!?

The book was published weeks before a certain international event that had huge political ramifications, but other events, such as the 2012 election, are anticipated with unusual warmth - even heat. It is increasingly rare for SF to take on politics with any directness; but with all the leverage and censorship politicians exert on scientific endeavors, it is past time for writers to return the compliment.

For all the book is sheer fun to read, it is hugely informative. Very, very few writers provide an education along with their story; Sawyer is one of the best. I hope he gets a Hugo nomination for this one. - Chris Paige


New Books Published on Space Nuclear Power
September 21, 2011

A three volume series on the history and engineering of space nuclear power and propulsion systems has just been published. Written by 50-year space nuclear program veteran David Buden, these books provide a comprehensive look into the space nuclear systems that may play a critical role in enabling human missions to the planet Mars.

The first book, Space Nuclear Radioisotope Systems, describes the technical workings of radioisotope systems, the requirements and safety design considerations of these systems, the different systems using this technology that have been developed, and their operational history, including information on the two Viking missions using radioisotope system technology.

The second book, Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Systems, explores the fundamentals of nuclear rockets, including the safety issues, mission requirements, developmental history of various concepts both in the U.S. and Russia, and a summary of the key developmental issues of this technology. This book also includes a comprehensive history of the Rover / NERVA rocket programs, which took NTP systems from the drawing board to the verge of flight tests as part of NASA's post-Apollo plans to achieve human missions to the Red Planet by the 1980s.

The third and final book of this series, Space Nuclear Fission Electric Power Systems, discusses the components that make up nuclear fission power systems, the principal requirements and safety issues involved, various development programs, status developments and development issues. Such systems are key for enabling the production of rocket propellants on the Martian surface, thereby making possible mission plans such as Mars Direct.

The author of this series, David Buden, is an engineer whose career spans five decades of space nuclear research and development and was involved in the development and management of various advanced nuclear power systems from the days of the nuclear airplane to the SP-100.

As a technical resource, these books are essential for anyone interested in the engineering of space nuclear power systems. All three books are currently available for purchase at
For further information about the Mars Society, visit our website at

Pock's World
by Dave Duncan
Edge Science Fiction, 2010, $15.oo, 250 pp

Pock's World examines the human tendency, or temptation, to play God. Five men and women, each of them influential in very different ways (political, moneyed, media-sleaze, corporate, and religious) are sent to evaluate whether the population of an entire planet needs to be "sterilized" to eliminate an "alien" influence from taking hold. But just how alien are they, really? The so-called Diallelon abominations are nothing other than extensively genetically modified synthetic hominins - "supermen" - deemed heretical by the Catholic Church, and feared by colonists. The question is, are they feared for themselves, or for the repercussion of sterilization that is visited upon planets infected by hubris incarnate? Or is the Church simply looking for an excuse to get rid of a planetary population that enjoys a heretical, happy freedom of its own? Theoretically, by sending five investigators, only one of whom is a priest, an objective and fair assessment will be made. Hmmm.

Five different agendas - more, when you factor in the citizens of Pock's World and the diallelons - jostle for pre-eminence in this story, and the reader gets to make up his or her own mind as which has the ring of truth, or if all of them are variations on a theme of self-deception.

The cover art is designed to appeal to the young adult market, but there is YA and YA. Pock's World is in Golden Compass territory, not to be confused with teen angst or Heinleinian chest-thumping. - Chris Paige

Book cover from
Kings of the North
by Elizabeth Moon
Del Rey, 2011, $26.oo, 478 pp

When an author returns to a trilogy after an absence of 20 years and extends it, there is invariably a shift; the author herself has changed, hence, so does the story-telling. Moon's style of writing is less romantic in tone, less Tolkienesque, more pragmatic, even as she describes wonders and terrors, magic, necromancy, elves and daskdraudigs.

Kings of the North is the 5th in the epic Deed of Paksenarrion continuum. The focus has shifted away from Paksenarrion herself to the men she made kings: Kieri and Mikeli. Paks still shows up, but she is very much on the sidelines, at least for now.

Kieri is under pressure to re-marry and provide heirs to the kingdom, preferably heirs who will strengthen the elven-mortal ties and be able to wield magic. He is reluctant to make a merely political alliance, especially when adjacent kings are sending their young daughters as either hostages or assassins. Furthermore, he is distracted by warning messages from ghosts, and by the incomprehensible, erratic behaviour of his elven grandmother who is the co-ruler of the kingdom. Most problematic of all, how could he, a half-elf who can expect to live for centuries but will not live the millennia elves enjoy, impose or endure the burden of age-discrepancy upon a wife? A mortal young enough to bear children would be a mere child in his eyes; and the elven maids who show an interest are ... old enough to be his mother. Heck, they all remember his mother. And honestly, he has more pressing concerns, like protecting the kingdom from invasion.

Mikeli has his own hornets' nest to deal with.   - Chris Paige

Book Cover found on
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope
by Morgan Spurlock and Alba Tull, 
DK, $24.99, 192 pp.

Here are photos and words from people in San Diego Comic Convention 2010. Inside are costumes, celebrities, and cool stuff.

By the way, found out this book never had episodes one to three. Only, Morgan Spurlock has done this documentary about a small peak on this convention. I guess he's a big fan of Star Wars...This book gives a glimpse of the biggest fan gathering in the U.S. (130,000). Awesome. Recommended to fans of San Diego Comic Con. -- By Jeffrey Lu

Book Cover found on
Evolve Two
Edited by Nancy Kilpatrick
Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2011, 263 pp

This anthology presents a variety of vampiric futures, all of them exploring aspects of predator-prey relationships, some with humor, some via horror, several with truly original twists of the tail. The demarcations of hunter and hunted are often ambiguous. Stories are organized into three groups: Pre-Apocalypse, Post-Apocalypse, and New World Order. Some of the Pre-Apocalypse stories, however, are already set in extreme conditions of over-population and global warming that are far past the tipping point, barely this side of the breakdown threshold.

One of my favorites is "Six Underground" by Michael Lorenson: in a neat reversal of the film Twelve Angry Men, a lone juror who is convinced that a Guilty verdict should be returned, sets out to convince the other 11. The story has cunning layers of logic and revelation, and more SF packed into its pages than any other three stories combined. "Toothless" is another standout; a detective story set in a near future where a few minutes of exposure to sunlight is enough to boil anyone's skin. (In both these stories, the differences between humans and vampires are vanishing.) The descriptions of how vampires are being affected by all the ambient radiation, and by human adaptations, are simultaneously hilarious and ghastly. "Nosangreal" by Ivan Dorin is the weirdest contribution, and yes, that's a compliment. The other two I enjoyed the most were "Out with the Old", a Post-Apocalyptic story by William Meikle, and Sandra Kasturi's "The Slow Turning of the World", which is the end piece, and an unusually successful example of pure narrative.

Ms. Kilpatrick did fine work here, and her Introduction essay is good to read in and of itself. Anyone looking for reading group material, or for examples of modern fiction to share with a literature class, should consider assigning some of these. Definitely recommended. - Chris Paige

Graphic Novel Segment - Reviewed by Jeffrey Lu

1) Buffy The Vampire Slayer The Long Way Home by Joss Whedon and Georges Jeanty,
Dark Horse, $15.99
Buffy and her friends, Willow and Xander, are back. She will have an army of slayers. They will not only have to battle supernatural forces but also the military with someone known as "Twilight."

This is volume one. This starts as "season eight." Violence. Amusing. Different from what I generally read. Need to see the entire TV series to understand what's going on. Strange but
enjoyable. Recommended to fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

2) Buffy The Vampire Slayer No Future For You by Brian K. Vaughan, Georges Jeanty and Joss Whedon, Dark Horse, $15.99
More stories of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In one story arc, Amy is give a secret mission by Giles. Her job is to take out another slayer in England.

This is volume two. Continuing as "season eight." Violence. Interesting. Liked it. Recommended to fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

3 ) Buffy The Vampire Slayer Retreat by Espenson, Jeanty, and Whedon,
Buffy and her friends are trying to lose their magical powers. Why? So, they can disappear from their magical enemy, Twlight and his allies. But Buffy and her friends will be found out and they will have to fight against a military invansion...

This is volume six. Need to read the first five to know what is generally going on. Recommended for mature audience. Adult situations. Violence. Interesting. Recommended to Buffy The Vampire Slayer graphic novel readers.

4) Buffy The Vampire Slayer Twilight by Meltzer, Jeanty, and Whedon,
Buffy is a superheroine. Also, Twilght is revealed. Enough said.
This is volume seven. Need to read the first six to know what is generally going on. Recommended for mature audiences. Adult situations. Violence. Not surprised at who Twilight is. Good story. Recommended to Buffy The Vampire Slayer graphic novel readers.

Book Cover found on
5) Conan The Hand of Nergal by Robert E. Howard, Timothy Truman, Tomas Giorello,
Dark Horse, $17.95.
Here is a Robert E. Howard's piece that was not complete. With Mr. Truman's help, the story is finally told. Conan the Barbarian will face many obstacles to save a friend. He will also fight something unnatural.

This is Volume 6. Reading volume 4 and 5 will help making this story clearer. Suggested for mature readers. Graphic violence. Cool. Lots of twists and turns. Great story. Recommended to Conan the Barbarian fans.

6) Sandman Mystery Theatre The Hourman and The Python by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle, Guy Davis and Warren Pleece, Vertigo, $19.99, 199 pp.
Wesley Dodds a.k.a. The Sandman and his love, Dian Belmont, are investigating two cases. One of them will be a future friend and ally. Another will be a return of an enemy. Hints of World War Two loomed in the background. Suggested for mature readers. Cursing. Graphic violence. Cruelty. Surprises in the usual pulp hero story. Recommended to Sandman pulp hero graphic novel readers.

Book Cover found on
7) Pax Romana by Jonathan Hickman, Image, $14.99.

The Vatican found that time traveling is possible. With this information, they decided a team should go in the time of Constantine and change history...Suggested for mature readers. Graphic violence. Adult situations. Different. Liked it. An interesting what-if story. Recommended to dark time traveling graphic novel readers.

8) Thor by J. Michael Straczynski and Marko Djurdjevic, Marvel, $14.99.
Dr. Doom and Loki are plotting to take out Thor. Will friends of Thor be able to counter this threat before Thor is seriously damaged? This is volume three and final with J. Michael Straczynski. Need to read the other two to know what is happening. Good story. Recommended to Marvel Thor graphic novel fans.

Book cover found on
9) Buffy The Vampire Slayer Wolves At The Gate by Goddard, Jeanty, and Whedon, Dark Horse, $15.99.

Buffy will have to deal with a theft from Japanese vampires. She will need Xander's old friend, Dracula, to counter these foes. This is volume three. Need to read the first two to know what is generally going on. Recommended for mature audience. Adult situations. Violence. Different. Amused in seeing Buffy's sister, Dawn, fighting a metal monster of herself. Recommended to Buffy The Vampire Slayer fans.

10) Buffy The Vampire Slayer Time of Your Life by Whedon, Moline, and Loeb, Dark Horse, $15.99.
In this book, Buffy time travels to met another Slayer, Fray. Also, Dawn changes and Willow in the future is pure evil. This is volume four. Helps to read the last three to know what's going on. Recommended for mature audience. Violence. Also, Winner of the 2007 Eisner Award for Best New Series. Good story. Recommended to Buffy The Vampire Slayer fans.

11) Buffy The Vampire Slayer Predators and Prey by Whedon, Espenson, DeKnight, Greenberg, Krueger, Petrie, and Jeanty, Dark Horse, $15.99.
Buffy's old classmate, Harmony Kendrall, is now a vampire with her own TV reality show. The popularity of the show makes vampires the hottest thing on the market. But there is a catch, the Slayers will be the new enemy. And oh yes, Buffy's sister, Dawn, changes again.

This is volume five. Helps to read the last four to know what's going on. Recommended for mature audience. Violence. Liked it. Definitely different in vampire TV reality show. Entertaining. Recommended to Buffy The Vampire Slayer fans.

12) Daytripper by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, Vertigo, $19.99.
Here is Bras de Oliva Domingo. In this book is different chapters of his life. Each chapter will have some meaning to his life. Each end of the chapter will be his death...Suggested for mature readers. Nudity. Adult situations. Potential violence. Different concept of dying at the end of each story. Touching. Sad. Overall, cool. Surreal but life's interesting steps to fulfillment. This is an amazing work. Can't believe this is the first time for the brothers. Highly recommended to a life-well-lived graphic novel readers.

Manga Segment 
Reviewed by Jeffrey Lu

1) Cirque Du Freak Allies Of The Night
by Darren Shan,
art by Takahiro Arai, Yen Press, $11.99, 188 pp.
Darren Shan will face something more trouble as he goes back to school. He will also meet an old friend and an old ally. Yet, the vampaneze are still murdering innocents in a city Darren once called home. Will Darren and his allies able to counter them in time?

This is volume eight. Read first seven to understand what is going on. There is a teen level warning.
Surprises. Dark. Recommended to dark supernatural readers.

2) Cat Eyed Boy by Kazuo Omezu, Viz, $24.99, 532 pp.
Cat Eyed Boy is somewhat the horror narrator but also trys to help out in most of the stories. In one, he will attempt to prevent tsunami monsters from destorying a village. He suceed but at what cost? This is volume one. This is rated T+. In other words, recommended for older teens. Graphic. Dark. Creepy but well done. Recommended to horror manga fans.

3) Cat Eyed Boy by Kazuo Omezu, Viz, $24.99, 487 pp.
Cat Eyed Boy is again trying to help humans from the coming horror. He will do his best but not all will be a success. This is volume two. Need to read volume one to understand what is going on. This is rated T+. This is recommended for older teens. Graphic. Refreshing. Like the story, /The Meatball Monster/. Highly recommended to horror manga fans.

Book Cover found on
4) Hellsing Vol. 8, Kohta Hirano, Dark Horse and DMP, $13.95, 202 pp.
A year and a half later, this volume finally comes out. The story is about a battle among Vatican fighters, vampire Nazis, and a British Hellsing who has a secret weapon- Dracula. But in this issue, Dracula is going againt a Vatican team of experts, an Archbishop and monster fighter, Anderson.

For Readers 13+- Violence, Mild language. Need to read first seven to know what's going on.
Worth the wait. Dark. Cool battles. Recommended to horror action graphic novel fans.

Book cover found on
5) Hellsing Vol. 9, Kohta Hirano,
Dark Horse and DMP, $13.95, 226 pp.
In this book, the battle between Anderson and Dracula finally ends. Another, Hellsing's butler, Walter, betrays his master. Something foul is going on in England...

For Readers 13+- Violence, Mild language. Need to read first seven to know what's going on.
Dark. Did not expect this encounter with vampires all over the place. Recommended to horror action graphic novel fans.


Sponsored by the advertisers in ConNotations NewsZine - Issue #5 2011


Patti Hultstrand said...

Write to me and let me know what you think about the book reviews I am able to offer you now. I am the Managing Editor of a bi-monthly Speculative Fiction newspaper. So, I can bring new reads or old reads made new by the power of the Book Review.

If you have a speculative fiction or science non-fiction book to tote, please let me know and I will have you send the paper your book for one of our growing number of book reviewers read your book and it will be published in the print newspaper, and on-line on their website, as well as on this blog in the months ahead of us.

Email me your interest at

Patti Hultstrand said...

Oh yes, we have very good advertising rates for the newspaper also. And for those advertising in the paper, you will also see your ad here at the end of these book reviews and on the organization's website. So, you get a SCREAMING price and get your ads in three locations. Take a look at the rates and you will agree, there isn't any better way to reach readers.