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ReReadable Books

February 2011

"Not Your Mother’s Science Fiction: Part 2"


Jacqueline Lichtenberg



 To send books for review in this column email Jacqueline Lichtenberg,jl@simegen.com  for snailing instructions or send an attached RTF file.  
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Magic to the Bone by Devon Monk, RoC pb Fantasy Nov 2008

Magic in the Blood by Devon Monk, RoC pb Fantasy May 2009

Magic in the Shadows by Devon Monk, RoC pb Fantasy Nov 2009

Magic on the Storm by Devon Monk, RoC pb Fantasy May 2010

From Hell With Love by Simon R. Green, RoC hc June 2010

Blood Rites by Jim Butcher, RoC hc reprint July 2010

Deceiver by C. J. Cherryh, DAW hc, May 2010

If your mother read science fiction, very likely the protagonist was male, and the antagonist also male. Sometimes the really evil and inscrutable antagonist was female though. And they never fell for one another.

Today’s science fiction and fantasy, and the various genre mixes of those two, plus admixtures of Romance and Mystery often include kick-ass heroines, and sometimes those heroines battle equally kick-ass villainesses.

Publishing wisdom insists that readers identify with the main protagonist, the character you are supposed to be rooting for to win whatever is at stake. Thus it was assumed that women, some 50% of any potential audience, rejected science fiction because they aren’t interested in science or because they can’t identify with someone smart enough to figure out a scientific puzzle and take the necessary action to make things right.

Little did they know!

But the cat’s out of the bag now and the potential science fiction/ fantasy audience has effectively doubled. Today you are as likely to find women in lead roles as you are to find men, but more often you find both in the same story and they sometimes get together.

I like to ride in the head of someone solving a knotty problem full of abstractions and in desperate need of knowledge nobody has ever known before. The gender or species of that character doesn’t matter. The puzzle counts, the emotional payoff of solving the puzzle counts, the wisdom gained by creating new knowledge counts big time.

I also like stories where the relatively ordinary people are living in a very extraordinary world, a world where the rules are different in such a way that "right" and "wrong" have to be redefined from scratch and problems don’t come in "simple." You can never tell what you can learn about who you really are by just reading a novel.

So I want to point you at the four Allie Beckstrom Novels by Devon Monk. I should have presented them in the set of review columns titled The Science of Magic from July to December 2010 , but I couldn’t fit them in.

Devon Monk has created an urban fantasy world where a "new" science has been discovered. Her father has developed the technology of Magic into an urban utility.

That’s right, Magic is a simple utility like water, electricity, telecommunications, internet. Pipes have been laid under cities which carry "magic." Anyone who has the proper charms or talents can tap that magic and use it for daily tasks. But it doesn’t work everywhere all the time.

The price of using Magic is pain, illness, even death. There is a dodge for that problem. The pain can be deferred by muttering a spell before doing magic, and you can choose what the pain will be – headache, nausea, whatever. Or, and here’s where the ethical issues abound, a magic user can divert the rebound from his/her own body onto the body of another person who will then suffer or even die.

The law allows volunteers to be paid (money) to accept the magical rebound of the Talented users. It’s a whole profession.

Allie Beckstrom is revolted by what her father has done with this technology. She’s a Tracker for hire using her inborn Talent to make her own living independent and isolated from her father’s affairs and fortune. She lives very downscale in an apartment that stinks of magical residue when it rains.

Her Talent grows with use, and others (of dubious ethics) find a use for her. Her father won’t give up on her. The cops are developing their own plans for her. Her father’s labs are doing original research, developing technology that will allow anyone (Talented or not) to tap into any amount of magical power without any rebound to themselves or anyone else (or so the sales pitch seems to go).

Then her father dies (is killed???) (by magic??) and Allie seems to inherit it all – but there’s a new stepmother, one in a long line of them, and the stepmother is newly pregnant. Whose side is the step-mother on?

As we get to know the underworld Allie’s life is wrapped up in, her problems become a quandary not solved by a huge inheritance, but complicated by it.

These are well crafted novels with something important to say about power, it’s use and abuse and how that relates magic to science. Please read these novels.

Simon R. Green has been writing some of the best fantasy/SF in the field for a very long time. You can step into the middle of his latest series without missing a beat, romp through the twists and turns of a deceptively light situation-comedy plot, and be satisfied in the ending, but totally hooked on finding the sequel.

Fortunately, while you wait for a sequel, you have his prior titles to hunt for. You can’t read just one Simon R. Green title. They’re like peanuts – or corn chips. You gotta have a bag full.

From Hell With Love is A Secret Histories Novel, is set in our world where the Drood family, a secret family equipped with a magical technology, defends humanity from savage incursions and local power abusers. The Droods are a huge family with more family politics than a mob family.

While fighting the latest efforts of a comical mad genius who has hunted down a Door to Hell, Eddie Drood, known as Shaman Bond, discovers his ancient and revered family has been secretly opposed by another family, The Immortals, for centuries without knowing it. And now they are at war over possession of the Door to Hell that one Immortal wants to transform into a Door to Heaven (so he can conquer heaven because Earth’s become boring).

The Secret Histories series is a James Bond takeoff with all the field testing of lab toys, insane leaps before looking, and madcap chasing around you could ever want. The men are learning, however, not to treat the women the way Bond treats his women. Punctuated with dazzling magical battles, it’s a page turner perfect for airplane rides.

You’ve seen me raving about each of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels as they’ve come out. The publisher made the mistake of issuing them only in paperback at first. Now they’re supplying hardcover copies of the older titles.

Here is a July 2010 hardcover edition of Blood Rites you don’t want to miss. It’s #6 of at least 12 in the Series which has been a SyFy channel series with DVD.

Blood Rites takes place before Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional Wizard, has been accepted into the higher offices of the guardians who police magic users and keep such power from being noticed by mundanes.

At this point in Harry’s story, he knows that his ex-wife has become a Vampire (of the kind that Kills) and has gone off to learn to control her urges. But he doesn’t yet know that he has a half-brother who’s a Vampire (of the kind that does not usually Kill).

Harry was raised by an Uncle after his father died – (Harry does know he used black magic to kill his Uncle, which is why the guardians of magic don’t trust him). The Uncle wanted control of Harry’s considerable magical power. So does Harry, even now. He packs a lot of punch but lacks finesse. The harder he tries to do good, the more trouble he gets into, but he won’t give up helping people.

Blood Rites is on Kindle and audiobook as well, but we all know those are not permanent formats.

Like C. J. Cherryh’s Foreigner Series, The Dresden Files is re-readable. You may want your children to read this when they get old enough to be curious about their mother’s science fantasy. Discussing Harry’s solutions to his problems may open their eyes to the adult world.

The 11th novel in C. J. Cherryh’s Foreigner Series, Deceiver is likewise rereadable. Collect-them-all to reread at once because it’s a long, ongoing, developing story-arc set up in trilogies. This is the middle book of the current trilogy and brings major changes to Bren Cameron’s social status among the alien Atevi, as he acts like the Atevi Lord his title proclaims him to be.

Like Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover, Foreigner is set on an alien planet where a lost colony of humans must somehow survive. It’s SF where the science is linguistics, and the relationships are between human and Alien. The one sex scene in this novel is "go to black." The biology works well enough, but, there can be no real emotional fulfillment in this Alien relationship for either because of biology. But they try. Really they do.

Foreigner is from Bren Cameron’s point of view, and the alien pickles he must wriggle out of often involve his human brother and his ex who is now with his brother. No way can the alien Atevi understand the pressure cooker Bren Cameron is living in while trying to save the planet they both live on from even more alien invaders!

To send books for review in this column email Jacqueline Lichtenberg,  jl@simegen.com for snailing instructions or send an attached RTF file.  



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