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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 03/18/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 37, Whole Number 1902
Table of Contents
I'd Bet on That (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I saw a news headline that would have been funny if it were not for the serious subject. It said, "Half People Killed by Police Suffer a Mental Disability."
I would actually put the proportion nearer 100%. [-mrl]
Fruit in Jeopardy (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Like just about everybody else in the world I am a big fan of fresh fruit. I guess I have a sweet tooth and foods that are healthy and sweet are rare. But in a few years the set of fruits that will be available to people may be very different and not as pleasing. Oranges and bananas as crops may be in real trouble.
You probably like a nice juicy and sweet orange. Orange juice is the most popular fruit juice in the country. But the orange crop in California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Texas and the U.S. Virgin Islands is in serious trouble from a disease called "greening." That is a very apt name for the problem. Once an orange tree gets the disease it produces smaller oranges, all or part green. The fruit becomes bitter and useless. Not only does the fruit have to be destroyed, the entire orange tree will never recover and itself will become a vector for the disease spreading. There is no reversing the disease. Greening comes from a bacterium that is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, a tiny insect no bigger than the head of a pin. So far there is not a good way to kill the psyllid. It can be slowed but not very well stopped. Also moving the plants that have the greening bacteria can spread the disease. That makes it very important that once a tree is diagnosed with the disease it must be destroyed thoroughly before its bacteria spreads. The citrus industry is losing the battle to contain greening.
Then there is the banana. Its problems we caused ourselves. There are multiple breeds of banana, more than three hundred. Most people have probably seen only one breed. Worse than that, if you live in the United States you probably have seen only one banana in your life. It has been cloned over and over and over. Every banana you have seen is probably a genetically identical twin of every other banana you have seen. Whenever you eat a banana you are probably eating a Cavendish banana. And that is a good thing. You are eating a good banana. Bon appetit. There used to be a very good banana called the Gros Michel. And they too were all genetically equivalent.
Each of these types of bananas is a monoculture--they have one genetic makeup. What happened to the Gros Michel was that it had no immunity to a certain fungal disorder. The disease that killed one banana tree killed all it reached. Honduras, which depends on fruit export, was financially devastated. Produce producers had to switch to another banana not quite as good. This was the Cavendish banana. It was unaffected by the fungal threat. The Gros Michel had been made into so many clones that did not have the defense they needed, so the Cavendish took the Gros Michel's place. Now it is being cloned over and over and over. It will survive nicely if not too threatened by disease.
Surprise. The black Sigatoka, a leaf fungus, and Panama disease, a soil fungus that attacks the plant roots is sending the Cavendish down the same road that the Gros Michel traveled. These bananas all have just one genome and if it leaves bananas vulnerable to fungi, the entire worldwide crop is endangered. And all this had happened before. Ireland survived largely on a monoculture breed of potato. Then the right fungus came along--it so frequently is a fungus--and you had on of the most terrible events of recent centuries, the Irish Potato Famine. Somewhere around a million people died of disease and starvation in the years between 1846 and 1851 when the potato crop failed.
Back in April 2007 I talked in my column about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD):
CCD is a phenomenon of worker bees mysteriously disappearing from hives and the hives fail, killing off the remaining bees. These bees are necessary to pollinate fruits and vegetables. If these bees cannot pollinate plants it will take a huge bite out of our selection of the fruits and vegetable on our tables. Humans will still find enough to eat, but our diet will be rather pallid. Each of these phenomena has a different cause, but each is a new phenomenon and I strongly suspect it is at base caused by human activity. The world is an extremely complex system. Any new activity humans start doing stands a good chance of having unintended consequences. We are in a race between positive change and negative change. We cannot stop that. We just have to wait and see what the net effect is. In the meantime why not sit back and enjoy a piece of fruit? [-mrl]
10 CLOVERFIELD LAND (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Michelle is leading a normal life when she has a car accident and wakes up to find herself in an underground cell that, as she is told, was why she survived the end of the world outside. She does not know if she should elude her captor or cooperate with the man saved her life. This is a taut film that flips reality and tears up your expectations of where to think the film is going. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
The first thing that film buffs will notice about 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is the title. Does the film have something to do with producer JJ Abrams' CLOVERFIELD? That was a found-footage film with something big attacking Manhattan. Well this film's plot may not have anything to do with the other film. Then again, any conclusions you draw from what you see on the screen are likely to be wrong. This is not a found-footage film and does have one or two stars. But the viewer is cautioned. Abrams likes to toy with his audience. Whatever you think you have guessed about what is going on, in five minutes things may seem entirely different and you will likely have new theories as to what is going on. Abrams keeps shaking the viewer's understanding around like a cat with a field mouse.
So what do we know about what is going on? Well, Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead of the most recent THE THING and currently of "Mercy Street") is leaving her husband to strike out on her own. Driving down a dark country road suddenly her car is hit by a pickup truck and is badly rolled end over end. When she wakes up she has good news and bad news. The good news is that she is not badly hurt. She will have to spend some time on crutches. That may be a little difficult since she is chained to a wall. Not a very nice wall either. She is in some sort of a cell with cinder block walls. That is the bad news. But then Howard (John Goodman) visits the cell. It seems this is not so much a little cell as a large room in some sort of underground shelter or bunker. Howard has brought her there as a mercy. How is it a mercy? It seems that while she was unconscious the world as we know it has come to an end.
Apparently there was some sort of an attack and maybe by chemical means, maybe by nuclear means, everybody is dead. She can probably leave, but as soon as she steps outside whatever killed off most of the human race would probably kill her. Now what kind of a ridiculous story is that? Well, maybe Howard has a wildly active imagination or maybe most of the human race is gone. And evidence keeps building on either side of the argument. John Gallagher, Jr., plays Emmett, who shares the underground bunker and has seen enough evidence to know that Howard is absolutely right. Or are they both crazy?
John Goodman is best known as a comic actor. This is one of only a few films in which he can be frightening and is imposing as a possible dangerous psychotic. If he were just unambiguously shown early on to be psychotic that would be one thing, but with director Dan Trachtenberg and writers Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle toying with the viewer the viewer finds him/herself straining to look at him for clues to the central question of understanding him. Winstead is quite good in a role that is not particularly new or cutting edge. She is the main character, but could have been a little more complex. JJ Abrams has found a film that would keep the budget down much as he did (differently) in CLOVERFIELD. This is a smallish film with a limited cast. Most of the film takes place in a bunker. But the film does seem to be pleasing audiences in a time when so many films are overstuffed based on comic books. I would rate 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1179933/combined
What others are saying: http://tinyurl.com/mtv-10clover
NEMESIS GAMES by James S.A. Corey (copyright 2015, Orbit, 2015 Hachette Audio, $28.33, 16 hrs. 44 mins., narrated by Jefferson Mays) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: an audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):
Several weeks ago, my son and I were out to dinner and talking about various things, as you do, when he asked the following question: "How do you know when you're done writing a book review?". Most times when he asks a question I can answer almost immediately. This one caused me to pause for a few moments before I could formulate an answer. The more pressing question for me is not how I know when I'm done writing a review, but just how do I go about starting one. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's not. Many times I'll fumble around looking for a way to get started. You may be able to tell that this is one of those times. But I'll see what I can do.
Luckily, James S.A. Corey--the pseudonym of the writing pair of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck--don't have the same problem I do. Oh, it's probably true that when they start writing an Expanse story, they have some problems getting started, but the final product that we see on the page--or on our e-readers--or hear from a narrator always seems to get off with a bang. NEMESIS GAMES, book five of the Expanse series, does just that. The book starts with an attack on the shipyards of Callisto, and while it does have its quiet moments, it really never stops moving. And while we're used to that with Expanse stories, NEMESIS GAMES is truly a totally different animal that is still somehow the same.
The Rocinante is back in the Solar System, badly in need of repair after the events chronicled in CIBOLA BURN. It's going to be several weeks before the ship is ready for action again, so the crew--Holden, Alex, Amos, and Naomi--all depart from Tycho Station where the Rocinante is docked and undergoing repair, to deal with personal business. So, for the first time in the series, the characters are not together during the crisis that occurs during their journeys. Alex returns to Mars to tie up some personal business with loved ones, Amos returns to Earth to do much the same but in a different way, Naomi takes a trip to deal with what is, at least to me, a suprising (but maybe it shouldn't be) past, and Holden is tasked to help look into the mysterious disappearances of ships.
There is much unrest within the structure of the Solar System. The galaxy outside the Solar System is home to countless worlds that are now available to settlers because of the gate that the protomolecule--or whoever or whatever made the protomolecule--left us. Those settlers are leaving in droves, and the political stability of the Solar System, what with the inner planets, the Outer Planetary Alliance, and the belters, while always tenuous, has gotten worse. The attack on Callisto is followed by one of the most spectacular and audacious attacks on Earth we have ever seen, and the Solar System is thrown into chaos. And how our four main characters, separately and eventually together, deal with that chaos while at the same time dealing with their own personal issues, is what lies at the core of this book.
For the first four Expanse novels Holden, Naomi, Alex, and Amos have been together, interacting with and playing off each other. For the first time, we not only see them apart for an expanded period of time, but we see how they handle things in the absence of the rest of their friends. And yet, their friends are never far from their thoughts. Several times we hear one character or another ask "What would Holded do", or "What would Alex do?". Just as interesting is learning about the past and private lives of the four. We certainly find out some surprising things, but we also find out what makes these people tick, what made them into the people they are today, what caused them to get where they are from where they were.
And yes, for the first time, there are very few new characters introduced. Oh, there are a few, certainly, and while at least one of them drives the plot, they are not the focus. They appear to be there for the convenience of having events in the series move forward. We do have a few old favorite friends back along for the ride. Fred Johnson, the butcher of Anderson station, plays a key role in the book, as does Bobbie Draper, who makes a welcome return to the story. And we really couldn't get through this without Chrisjen Avasarala, who is as feisty and vulgar as ever, but who is also funny and, of course, effective.
This book is also about change, but it needs to be. When you hit book five in a series, the story and characters can tend to get stale and routine. With NEMESIS GAMES, Corey seems to be saying "alright, it's time for a shakeup; let's stir the pot a bit". The book ends on a cliffhanger, with events of the book irrevocably changing the shape of the Solar System. Similarly, as a result of their separate journeys, each member of the crew of the Rocinante has changed, both individually and as a unit, as their relationships with each other have changed. There are a projected four more books to go in the Expanse series, with BABYLON'S ASHES, book six, due out this summer. Corey has turned what we know about the Expanse on its ear. It is going to be interesting to see what comes next.
I can't say enough about the narrator, Jefferson Mays. He brings each character to life, giving each their own voice, reading them with expert enthusiasm. My favorite is his portrayal of Chrisjen Avasarala. I looked forward to those scenes more than the rest--he brought her to life in a way I believe no other narrator could. Mays makes listening to this book worthwhile. This is the first of the Expanse books that I have listened to, and I wish I had listened to the others he narrated as well.
NEMESIS GAMES is a book that expertly changes the face of the Expanse universe. If the rest of the novels in the series come anywhere close in quality to this one, which I believe is the best of the lot so far, then we as readers have a lot to look forward to. [-jak]
ANCILLARY MERCY by Ann Leckie (copyright 2015, Orbit, 334pp, $9.99 (Kindle Edition), ISBN 978-0-316-24667-5) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):
I really don't know what to make of ANCILLARY MERCY, the third and, presumably, final book in the Imperial Radch series. ANCILLARY JUSTICE, the first book in the series, took the field by storm, winning all sorts of awards, and deservedly so. It introduced the concept of the ancillary, an individual that isn't an individual; a being that is at once a starship and part of a starship. It was also lauded for its use of a single gender pronoun for both genders, rendering the concept of gender itself nearly irrelevant, if not completely so. It was well written, and injected a terrific breath of fresh air into the space opera sub-genre.
ANCILLARY SWORD, the second book in the series, seemed to indeed suffer from being the second book in a series, kind of a bridge between the introduction and set up of the story and what would presumably be the triumphant, climactic finish to the entire story. In my review of ANCILLARY SWORD, I called it more of a soap opera than a space opera, with all sorts family squabbles and intrigue, and in my mind not a lot happened.
Which brings us to ANCILLARY MERCY. A friend of mine commented something to the effect of "that's a lot of book for what happened in it". I think he hit it on the head. But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. So, aside from the neat and interesting concepts introduced in the first book, the overarching storyline is that Breq, former Justice of Toren ancillary and now Fleet Captain of the Radch forces in the Atheok system, is out to destroy Anaander Mianaai, the Lord of the Radch. You see, there's a civil war going on in Radch space, but the thing is that the civil war is between at least two different instantiations (okay, the former software developer in me is coming out) of Anaander. Breq has been made Fleet Captain by one of those instantiations, but she is looking to go after the other instantiation. I do waffle a bit on how many there are, because Breq herself thinks there might be more than two, but that was never followed up on.
The book contains familiar characters, as Lieutenant Seivarden and Tisarwat are back along for the ride. We have yet another Presger translator as well as an ancillary from another ship that has apparently remained hidden from the Radch empire for a very long time. Quite frankly, I still haven't quite discerned the purpose of the new ancillary, and the Presger translator seems, in general, to be there for increasingly annoying comic relief, constantly asking for fish and fish sauce (this tells you a lot if most of what I remember from the book is about the Presger translator). Then again, the translator does make a decision that will influence the future of the empire, but it is never followed up on.
And there is the final confrontation with Anaander Mianaai. I had been wondering for quite some time how the whole situation was going to be resolved, as there are numerous Anaanders on both sides of the civil war. The answer to that question is, in my mind, quite disappointing. Nothing much happens, really (other than a lot of tea drinking), and the solution to the problem doesn't seem to be much of a solution at all. It seems that the conflict should be one that is difficult to win, given the numbers involved. In the end, I'm not sure there was a winner or a loser.
There is a lot of high praise going around for ANCILLARY MERCY right now. I am afraid that I'm in the minority--I just don't see it. As I said to another of one of my friends recently, when he asked what I thought of it, "I wasn't moved". There was still a lot of family squabbling, still a lot of political maneuvering, but not a lot of interesting goings on. As I was disappointed in ANCILLARY SWORD, I was even more disappointed in ANCILLARY MERCY. While the book itself was well written, I'm not sure what it was written about. I'm left with an empty feeling that a lot more was promised, but not enough was delivered. It's not clear to me that if there is ever another book written in the Radch universe that I will pick it up and read it. [-jak]
Mass Market Paperbacks (and Other Forms) (letters of comment by Keith F. Lynch, Gary McGath, and Peter Trei):
In response to Evelyn's comments on book sizes in the 03/11/16 issue of the MT VOID, Keith Lynch writes:
That's how I almost always read books other than mass market paperbacks [lying on my stomach with the book lying on the bed]. Not only are mass market paperbacks (mmpbs) much more comfortable to hold, to read, and to carry home from the book store, they also take less space to shelve. And, being all the same height and depth, don't waste space on the shelf.
Not coincidentally, I always wait for the mmpb before buying a new novel. If it's been several years, I'll reluctantly buy a used hardback or trade paperback if I can find one (which I usually can't). Of course that means neither the author nor the publisher gets any money from me.
I'm baffled by the apparent gradual phasing out of mmpbs. I've been waiting for eight years for Turtledove's THE MAN WITH THE IRON HEART to come out in mmpb. I guess it's never going to happen. And I think it's been more than a decade since I've found any new mmpbs from one of my favorite authors, Greg Egan--and his novels never show up at used book sales.
I bought THE MARTIAN, even though it cost $10, as I had heard very good things about it. And it *is* good. But on finishing it and attempting to shelve it, I discovered it's not really an mmpb, and is just a little too tall to fit on my mmpb shelves. I could shelve it with my non-mmpb fiction, but it would really waste space on that shelf, as it's not nearly as tall or deep as most of them. I'm strongly tempted to take a saw to it and trim it to mmpb size; the top and bottom margins are tall enough that I wouldn't lose any text.
What are publishers thinking? Are they intent on self-destructing? When they go out of business will they claim it's because people no longer read? [-kfl]
[From the rec.arts.sf.written FAQ--the numbers may be outdated, but their relative values still apply]
As for why (more expensive) trade paperbacks instead of (cheaper) mass market paperbacks:
To publish a mass-market paperback successfully, you need to sell 10,000 copies of a 25,000 run to succeed--*and* you need to do this in a six- to eight-week period. Trade paperbacks can sell fewer, but even more to the point, they don't have a time limit, since they are not stripped by bookstores after six weeks. [culled from panels at Boskone and elsewhere]
Or as Michael Kube-McDowell explained it:
The floor condition for successful mass market publishing is roughly analogous to being able to fill a particular 50,000-seat stadium for a football game on a particular Sunday afternoon.
The floor condition for successful trade publication is roughly analogous to being able to attract 10,000 visitors to a new museum of textile arts in the first six months it's open.
You can't have successful mass market publishing if people are wandering into the stadium a few at a time from Saturday morning to six weeks from Thursday, all expecting to see the same game--even if the total eventually is enough to have filled the stadium.
What you get in that case is a 50,000-seat stadium that's mostly empty (returns), which doesn't do much for either the team or the owner.
[Thanks to MK-M.]
And as for the new, taller mass-market paperbacks, the explanation from publishers was that it allowed for a bigger typeface for baby boomers whose eyesight was going, while still fitting into the fixed-width wire racks. I've seen them called "premium mass-market paperbacks", but "taller mass-market paperbacks" seems like a fine description to me. (They post-date the RASFW FAQ.) [-ecl]
And Gary McGath writes:
E-books are eating into the paperback market. They cost nothing in materials, get the publisher points for eco-friendliness, let the publisher snoop on your reading habits, and (when under DRM) can't be lent out.
What puzzles me is why buyers fought tooth and nail against DRM in music and won (though "Internet radio" is gradually displacing buyable music now), yet buyers of books have acquiesced with few complaints. [-gmg]
Peter Trei responds:
As soon as PCs started installed CD drives as standard equipment, people found they could easily rip them and share the tracks. Remember Napster?
By the time the music publishers realized that money could be made selling music online, there was already a flourishing (if illegal) culture of music sharing. Trying to get those people to accept DRM meant getting them to buy a worse product than they could obtain for free. Unsuprisingly, they resisted.
Books, otoh, remained largely physical, and still remain a royal pain in the ass to 'rip' to digital form. It was the *publishers*-- mainly Amazon with the proprietary, walled-garden Kindle--who pushed ebooks, not the customer.
Since relatively few people were used to sharing free ebooks, and the main early platform for reading them didn't permit it, the ebook reader culture grew up without the notion of sharing. [-pt]
I would guess that music is something most purchasers want to put on many different devices and listen to over and over, while for most purchasers books go on one device, get read once, and then get abandoned. [-ecl]
Travel and Adaptors (letters of comment by Kip Williams and Paul Dormer):
In response to the comments on travel in the 03/11/16 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
Having traveled, and having worried about and prepared for different electrical situations, I've found that most kits seem to convert in both directions, and that many adaptors that come with electronics are already equipped to convert a wide variety of voltages to run the unit. It never occurred to me to ask a hotel if they had an adaptor I could use, but most places we've been that tend to have Americans come through seem to have at least one 117VAC outlet in the room (most often, it's in the bathroom, and it may claim to be for shavers only).
I was expecting to have to buy transformers, but it turned out that all I needed were simple outlet adaptors. I also carry my own extension cord or power strip so I can keep things charging. So many damn chargers. [-kw]
These days it is true that most devices can run on either 120V or 240V systems, but the plugs/points have all sorts of different physical configurations and that is what one needs adaptors for. (Adaptors change the plugs; transformers change the voltages.) [-ecl]
And Paul Dormer writes:
As it happened, I remembered I'd left the power adaptor behind whilst I was on the Eurostar. I was stopping the night in Cologne and got there before the shops closed and found a Media Markt which sold UK to European adaptors for 10 euro--plugs are the same in Germany, Sweden and Finland, which were my main stopovers for the journey. [-pd]
As I noted in my travelogue to South Africa, South Africa takes a peculiar type of plug found nowhere else in the world (not even the rest of Africa): three large round prongs in an equilateral triangle. This means no "universal" or "international" adaptor is of use. Well, that is not exactly true. You see, a Europe-to- South Africa adaptor costs about $1.50 in South Africa, while a US- to-South Africa adaptor (when you can find one!) costs about $10. So you buy the Europe-to-South Africa adaptor, plug the device into the US-to-Europe (or universal) adaptor, then plug *that* into the Europe-to-South Africa adaptor, then plug that into the wall. The South Africa adaptor also makes a great cheap souvenir.
See http://tinyurl.com/void-plugs1; the South African one is the second row, fourth from the left. You can also find pictures at http://tinyurl.com/void-plugs2. [-ecl]
Sherlock Holmes (letter of comment by Kip Williams):
In response to Evelyn's comments on Sherlock Holmes in the 03/11/16 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
Interesting. I find "Sherlock Holmes" stories that aren't by Doyle to be more irritating than "Sherlaw Combs" parodies. I don't read a whole lot of either these days, but I used to dream of being able to find the Ellery Queen anthology, THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, which commanded prices well north of my range, back in the 70s. Fifty bucks and up. That the book existed at all was a bit of a fluke, since it came out while the Doyle heirs still controlled the character, and it was quickly suppressed. Anyway, Archive has the book now, free for anyone to download or online perusal: https://archive.org/details/scriblio_test_044.
I was a little surprised to see that this volume excludes two stories Doyle wrote in which a character who many believe to have been Holmes offered ingenious solutions to a mystery which then turned out to have been wrong. I've seen these in other collections. The one I recall offhand, "The Lost Special," is available here: http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/LosSpe.shtml. ('"It is one of the elementary principles of practical reasoning," he remarked, "that when the impossible has been eliminated the residuum, HOWEVER IMPROBABLE, must contain the truth. ..."')
My personal favorite Holmes parody is the Firesign Theater's LP, "The Giant Rat of Sumatra," which plays up the coke-fiend aspect (Stones becomes much more smug and garrulous after a sniff of cocoa) and puts the adventure in the Jazz Age over a rich texture of puns and entendres. The identity of the mysterious Electrician is ... well, let's not spoil it. [-kw]
Time's Arrow (letter of comment by Dan Cox):
In response to Mark's comments on entropy and ripples in a pond in the 03/04/16 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Cox writes:
[Mark had suggested that entropy was not the only phenomenon that could not be reversed in time and hence showed the direction of time's arrow. Ripples on a pond move outward when you are moving forward in time.]
Roughly speaking, the pre-ripple water, at the instant that the rock has made the maximum "dent" in the surface, has less entropy, since there are places with more potential energy and places with less. [-dtc]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I finally read THE COBBLER OF RIDINGHAM by Jeffrey E. Barlough (ISBN 978-0-978-76344-2), which I had bought several months ago but waited until I was in the right mood to savor it. This is another in Barlough's "Western Lights" series, for which the premise (according to a note at the end) is that the last Ice Age never ended, medieval England sent out explorers to find more habitable climes, and they found a North America with no humans but still populated by Pleistocene megafauna. Then, in 1839, the "sundering" happened. All life on Earth was apparently destroyed, save that along the west coast of North America.
Much as I like the books in the series, I have to say this is a load of codswallop. In the books, in spite of an Ice Age that never ended, British civilization developed along exactly the same lines: there is a Wales (and they are known for their harps), there is a Scotland (wouldn't it be covered in ice?) (and they are known for their stinginess, and there was a Henry Tudor and an Oliver Cromwell. If anything, wouldn't there be even more of a chance that the Americas were colonized from Asia, across a land bridge that was much wider because so much more water was tied up in ice? And this "sundering" has no logic behind it, unless one argues it is a supernatural event caused by God (which, in the sense that it is a naked plot device created by the author, I suppose it is). And in this world of different climates, where are people finding tobacco, tea, ginger, and coffee in the first place?
That said, the books are enjoyable, with their Dickensian language and characters. I fear, however, that Barlough may be getting carried away: he has his tradesmen in this named Woolsack (tailor), Pinchbeck (bootmaker), Derby (hatter), Sweeting (confectioner), Dousterwweed (tobacconist), and Casken (vintner). Barlough is also going a bit steampunk, with dirigibles. The earlier books had more of a sense of mystery, though I suppose Barlough cannot write eight books without providing somewhat more information about the world he is writing in than the vague hints he started with.
Still, the writing is wonderful, full of obsolete yet evocative words, and it makes overlooking the plot holes allowable.
D.A. by Connie Willis (ISBN 978-1-596-06120-0) is a Heinlein-esque novella, with a young protagonist who finds herself accepted into the space academy when she never volunteered and has no desire to go. I suppose as a young adult book it is okay, though it seems a bit padded out and could have been done at novelette length (though probably not as a short story). I will go along with the suggestion in many reviews that this is best borrowed from the library rather than bought at full price. (Obviously, if one is giving this as a gift, this does not apply.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong. --Bertrand RussellTweet
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