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End of Summer Fantasy/SciFi/Horror Book Reviews

IN THE August 27 ISSUE

FROM THE 2011 Articles,
andBooks & Tales,
andEvery Other Book,
andFantasy & Fangs,
andTerrance V. Mc Arthur
SECTIONS

by Terrance V. Mc Arthur

Enjoy a bunch of end of the summer reading suggestions in horror, fantasy and Sci-Fi.

Real Vampires Don’t Wear Size Six by Gerry Bartlett

Unlife is rough for Gloriana St. Clair. The vampire council of Austin, Texas, doesn’t like the vamp theme of her retro clothing boutique, demons are invading her space, her boyfriend won’t forgive her for an affair she had while demon-possessed, an undead rock star is mixing blood and alcohol, and – after 400 years – she still wishes that the aforementioned boyfriend had waited until she’d lost some weight before the final bite, trapping her for centuries in a size 16 body.

Gerry Bartlett’s Real Vampires Don’t Wear Size Six, her seventh frisky, sexy, paranormal-romance-adventure travels along at a brisk clip. I thought I’d be lost jumping into the middle of a series, but she brings new readers up to speed without slowing the action. Sexier than Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series, more action-oriented than the MaryJanice Davidson Undead books, and a lot funnier than Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake novels, Ms. Bartlett’s take on the world of the fanged, the furry, and the scaly is bright and breezy, overblown fun.

To stay in Texas, Glory plays “big sister” to a recently-turned vampire girl, a brainy, plus-size computer nerd with no fashion sense and a cheerleading, airheaded twin. The life of Glory’s part-demon, shape-shifting, one-time fling is about to be repossessed by Lucifer unless Glory and friends can deliver some major souls to the Underworld. As an incentive, the Prince of Darkness offers the full-figured vampire the size-6 body of her dreams.

Glory is a “good” vampire (she drinks synthetic blood), and the only reason she would deal with the Devil is to save a friend. How can she gather souls for Hell and keep her goodness? A battle is waging around her, with warriors from Above and Below out to help her and stop her in different ways.

This may seem like there are a lot of storylines to keep track of, but it’s clearly written and easy to follow. Bartlett’s clever touches create characters that stand out from the background. Glory has faults, weaknesses, and a clear humanity that makes you want her to succeed. The young computer geek goes through recognizable stages in her journey to acceptance of vampire life—desire for revenge against the boy who left her where she was found by a rogue vampire, wanting to turn her fraternal twin into a vampire—and her mistakes are understandable.

Whether trying to keep the newbie friend she is mentoring from draining the blood from her date, help the rocker stay undead through the detox process, or fending off the ruler of the Lower Realms with a bottle of bath gel, Glory stands on her own chubby feet, thinking for herself—even when the big, beautiful vampire is tempted to let the males in her life take charge.

The situations are clever, the dialogue is brisk, and you’ll want to explore the rest of the series, and the paperback includes a bonus chapter of the next installment of the saga, so don’t try to peek at the last page to see how it ends, because that’s part of a different book!

Hex by Allen Steele

In today’s publishing world of never-ending sequels, a writer eventually runs out of room for the world he/she has created. In Hex, Allen Steele has come up with an interesting solution to his problem.

The people of the planet Coyote have broken contact with Earth (which has been nothing but trouble for seven books) and are trading with other starfaring races when they are offered a new place to colonize. They are given no information, just the coordinates, and other aliens snicker in their sleeves when asked about it. A survey expedition is sent out, carried by Merchant Marine Captain Andromeda Carson. There is friction from the beginning because one of the expedition members is her estranged son, Sean.

Do you remember the old Star Trek episode (“The Corbomite Maneuver”) where the alien spaceship fills the screen with these interconnected pods? Multiply it about a million times, and you’d have the world of Hex.

When they reach their mindblowingly-large destination (it’s so big, there’s a star in the middle of it!), the humans, being human, start off by breaking the house rules (don’t throw things (spacecraft) through the windows, don’t disturb the neighbors, leave all your weapons outside, stay out of places that say DO NOT ENTER), and anyone who has been a renter knows the most important rule: Don’t Upset the Landlords…especially if the landlords resemble eight-foot-tall, highly intelligent tarantulas.

Andromeda is a strong woman who has been very good at her job for a long time, not as impulsive as Captain Kirk…until her son is in danger. She shifts into Momma Lion mode, willing to break any rules to rescue her cub.

This is rip-roaring fun, building from the presentation of the mysterious mission to explore an unknown habitat, to the “oh, wow” revelation of what Hex is, to the break-neck adventures and confrontation, to the “oh, double-wow” solution of an author’s world-filling dilemma. The characters are properly at odds, the action will appeal to teens and adults. Other reviews quibble with the physics (interlocking hexagons make a flat plane, not a sphere), but it’s easy to work around any of these problems (they can appear to be hexagons, even if the sides aren’t completely identical, so it can create a rounded surface).

Steele’s previous work has earned him two Hugo awards for his novellas, and this book makes me want to explore more of his Coyote series, as well as other worlds he has created.

Rule 34 by Charles Stross

Science Fiction literature has two basic approaches to visions of the future: the “Gee Whiz” writers see a tomorrow of exciting possibilities (the glass is half-full—and OH! what we can put in that other half!), but the “Oh Yuck” authors know that today may be bad, but tomorrow is only going to get worse (the glass will break and cut my fingers). Charles Stross’s Rule 34 sees a pessimistic view of tomorrow’s world of police work, Internet spam, and artificial intelligence.

Liz is a detective in Edinburgh , Scotland , in the year 2023, heading a unit dealing with Internet porn (Internet Rule 34: “If it exists, there is porn of it.”). She is pushed into a homicide investigation of a very kinky death that begins to connect to cases in other countries. Anwar is a convicted spammer on probation; somehow, he becomes the honorary Scottish consul of a barely-existent country. The Toymaker is a troubled individual tasked with reorganizing a region of a non-legal business organization after the death of its previous manager. Their lives twist and interweave into a baffling game of who-is-pulling-whose-strings that is less a whodunit than a whydunit.

The book, a sort-of sequel to 2007’s HaltinG State, is written in a second-person voice (“You’re coming to the end of a….” “Once you’re on the bike lane….” “You don’t usually….”), reminiscent of computer-game descriptions, that distances you from the characters and the action, and the language is littered with Scottishisms that make you want to ask the nearest bagpiper for a translation. Stross, a six-time Hugo nominee for his novels (he won a Hugo in 2005 for best novella), is known for his interweaving of the cyberworld and bureaucracy, and for how he deftly pushes current world trends into the territory of science fiction. The ending leaves some unanswered questions, like…who committed the murder that started this whole thing in the first place…but I was impressed by this book.

If you’re a Charles Stross fan, or if you like the idea of Internet spammers being disposed of in unusual ways, or if computer doublespeak is your native tongue, this book is for you. Looking for a book packed with economic concepts extrapolated into a dour near-future? You might enjoy this.

Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds

In Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds, angels aren’t lovely messengers from heaven; they are post-humans with machines in their blood, wings sprouting from their backs, and jetpacks to help them fly. They live at the top of Spearpoint, a vertical city of 30,000,000, rising miles into the atmosphere, divided into zones of technology: Celestial Levels, Circuit City, Neon Heights, Steamville, and Horsetown. Less and less technology works as you go down to the lower parts of the city, and humans get zone sickness when they cross a boundary.

Quillon used to be an angel, but he was altered as part of a plan to infiltrate and occupy the low-tech realms. He rebelled, and now he works in a Neon Heights morgue where a fallen angel gives him a warning…and a weapon. Escaping the city with the aid of Meroka, a young woman who works interzone as a guide, Quillon travels through lands of shifting technozones with ghoulish angels, drug-secreting carnivorgs, airships, horse-drawn machine-gun wagons guarded by trike-riding warriors, a de-teched cyborg running on the steam from a bathhouse, a girl who can move zones, and a land so low-zone that no living organism can grow.

Things are changing in this world, and Quillon finds himself on a mission back to a collapsing Spearpoint in a fleet of dirigibles, bearing a load of interzone medications and a way to heal the planet.

The steampunk elements of the book provide adventure, a tour of much of the Earth (and is the Earth THE Earth?), and introspection on duty from good guys and bad guys. Character names refer to weapons and armor, and Meroka’s many trips across zone boundaries have given her a neurological fondness for The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television, a habit that starts to rub off on the other characters. The world-building aspects of the novel are strong, with tantalizing clues to the ultimate realities slipped in among simple statements, such as a description of a flag design or an estimate of how long it would take to fly around the globe.

Laced with a sardonic, wry humor, so much happens that a second reading of Terminal World is a good idea. One thing I found interesting was repeated reminders to Quillon that this wasn’t just about him, an encouragement to think about the story’s global implications, not just the effects upon the main characters. This book is about space (although it never goes there), history (although Quillon’s has been erased), and ethics (although some of the societies seem to have none). A terminal world can be a dying planet, but that may not be the only meaning of the title. The blending of high-tech and retro-tech is intriguing; give Terminal World a little life support and it might grow on you.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a California-born, Valley-raised librarian/entertainer/writer. He is currently writing a stage adaptation of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild for the Fresno County Public Library’s next The Big Read. He lives in Sanger, four blocks from the library, with his wife, his daughter, and a spinster cat.

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