A volume to dip into rather than read right through.

INFINITE STARS

Fourteen new stories and 10 reprints, some of full novella length, hitching together two familiar themes, military science fiction and space opera.

In his brief note, editor Schmidt conflates the two topics, believing that many readers find them indistinguishable, and leaves Robert Silverberg to discuss the matter in his historical introduction. The term “space opera,” Silverberg writes, was coined by fan Wilson Tucker in 1941 and intended pejoratively; gradually the sting dissipated as science fiction began to transcend its pulp origins. We see this process reflected in the three oldest entries here: Poul Anderson’s human hunter vs. intelligent alien prey, “Duel on Syrtis”; Cordwainer Smith’s Hugo-winning “The Game of Rat and Dragon,” in which telepathic humans and cats team up to destroy hyperspace predators; and Anne McCaffrey’s seminal human brain-in-a-spaceship, “The Ship Who Sang.” (None of the three, unsurprisingly, can remotely be classified as either military or space opera.) The new tales all derive from their authors’ distinctive, established universes with highly developed settings, plots, and characters, making it difficult for newcomers to absorb much from a single story embedded in an unfamiliar saga. Orson Scott Card’s tale introduces a new cycle spun off his endlessly intriguing Ender’s Game child-warrior books. Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson extend their neo-Dune chronicle with a story set during the action of Frank Herbert’s original Dune. Alastair Reynolds offers a tale from his classic space opera Revelation Space. From Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series we learn how Adm. “Black Jack” Geary got his nickname. Elizabeth Moon’s tale from her generally impressive Vatta military-family saga bridges the prior novels and the new series opener (Cold Welcome, 2017). Other famous series represented here include a 1987 story from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan space opera and new entries from Catherine Asaro (Skolian Empire), Jody Lynn Nye (Imperium), Linda Nagata (The Red), David Drake (RCN), David Weber (Honor Harrington), and more. The question remains, how likely are readers to jump from one series to another, and indeed, how many will want to?

A volume to dip into rather than read right through.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2017

ISBN: 1-78565-593-0

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Titan Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

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THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE

After 1,000 years of peace, whispers that “the Nameless One will return” ignite the spark that sets the world order aflame.

No, the Nameless One is not a new nickname for Voldemort. Here, evil takes the shape of fire-breathing dragons—beasts that feed off chaos and imbalance—set on destroying humankind. The leader of these creatures, the Nameless One, has been trapped in the Abyss for ages after having been severely wounded by the sword Ascalon wielded by Galian Berethnet. These events brought about the current order: Virtudom, the kingdom set up by Berethnet, is a pious society that considers all dragons evil. In the East, dragons are worshiped as gods—but not the fire-breathing type. These dragons channel the power of water and are said to be born of stars. They forge a connection with humans by taking riders. In the South, an entirely different way of thinking exists. There, a society of female mages called the Priory worships the Mother. They don’t believe that the Berethnet line, continued by generations of queens, is the sacred key to keeping the Nameless One at bay. This means he could return—and soon. “Do you not see? It is a cycle.” The one thing uniting all corners of the world is fear. Representatives of each belief system—Queen Sabran the Ninth of Virtudom, hopeful dragon rider Tané of the East, and Ead Duryan, mage of the Priory from the South—are linked by the common goal of keeping the Nameless One trapped at any cost. This world of female warriors and leaders feels natural, and while there is a “chosen one” aspect to the tale, it’s far from the main point. Shannon’s depth of imagination and worldbuilding are impressive, as this 800-pager is filled not only with legend, but also with satisfying twists that turn legend on its head. Shannon isn’t new to this game of complex storytelling. Her Bone Season novels (The Song Rising, 2017, etc.) navigate a multilayered society of clairvoyants. Here, Shannon chooses a more traditional view of magic, where light fights against dark, earth against sky, and fire against water. Through these classic pairings, an entirely fresh and addicting tale is born. Shannon may favor detailed explication over keeping a steady pace, but the epic converging of plotlines at the end is enough to forgive.

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63557-029-8

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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The flashy, snappy delivery fails to compensate for the uninhabited blandness of the characters. And despite the many clever...

SNOW CRASH

After terminally cute campus high-jinks (The Big U) and a smug but attention-grabbing eco-thriller (Zodiac), Stephenson leaps into near-future Gibsonian cyberpunk—with predictably mixed results.

The familiar-sounding backdrop: The US government has been sold off; businesses are divided up into autonomous franchises ("franchulates") visited by kids from the heavily protected independent "Burbclaves"; a computer-generated "metaverse" is populated by hackers and roving commercials. Hiro Protagonist, freelance computer hacker, world's greatest swordsman, and stringer for the privatized CIA, delivers pizzas for the Mafia—until his mentor Da5id is blasted by Snow Crash, a curious new drug capable of crashing both computers and hackers. Hiro joins forces with freelance skateboard courier Y.T. to investigate. It emerges that Snow Crash is both a drug and a virus: it destroyed ancient Sumeria by randomizing their language to create Babel; its modern victims speak in tongues, lose their critical faculties, and are easily brainwashed. Eventually the usual conspiracy to take over the world emerges; it's led by media mogul L. Bob Rife, the Rev. Wayne's Pearly Gates religious franchulate, and vengeful nuclear terrorist Raven. The cultural-linguistic material has intrinsic interest, but its connections with cyberpunk and computer-reality seem more than a little forced.

The flashy, snappy delivery fails to compensate for the uninhabited blandness of the characters. And despite the many clever embellishments, none of the above is as original as Stephenson seems to think. An entertaining entry that would have benefitted from a more rigorous attention to the basics.

Pub Date: May 15, 1992

ISBN: 0553380958

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1992

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