Snare by Katherine Kerr

Snare Cover

ISBN-13: 978-0312890452
ISBN-10: 0312890451
Publisher: Tor Books
Pub. date: April 2003
$27.95, 592 pages,
hardcover

Reviewed by Matthew Appleton

This review originally appeared in the September 2003 issue (#181) of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

One of the primary definitions of the word ‘snare’ in the Merriam Webster Dictionary is “something by which one is entangled, involved in difficulties, or impeded.” With that in mind, I couldn’t help but wonder if Katherine Kerr was attempting some sort of bold statement with the name of her most recent novel, Snare. Was she trying to convey that the world of this novel might just entrap the reader just as it has entrapped its occupants?

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Balshazzar’s Serpent by Jack L. Chalker

Balshazzar's Cover

Riverdale, NY: Baen Books, 2000; $24.95 hardcover;
291 pp.

Reviewed by Matthew Appleton

This review originally appeared in the January 2001 issue (#149) of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

After reading the first 50 pages or so of Jack L. Chalker’s Balshazzar’s Serpent, you find yourself in something of a shock. Here you are reading a book published by Baen, the leading publisher of militaristic sf, complete with the obligatory cover art denoting it as part of the militaristic subgenre, and there isn’t even the threat of a battle looming on the horizon. What gives? Well, in religious terms, patience is a virtue if you’re looking for the standard Baen fare of a macho military leader taking a group of hardened men into glorious battle in which they utterly smite the enemy and then move on to their next conquest.

After a lot of setup, that finally happens around page 150.

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First Meetings in the Enderverse by Orson Scott Card

Enderverse Cover

New York, NY: Tor Books, 2003; $17.95 hardcover; 208 pp.

Reviewed by Matthew Appleton

This review originally appeared in the December 2003 issue (#184) of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

The Ender universe, hereon referred to as the Enderverse, seems irresistible to both creator Orson Scott Card and its many fans. At this point, Card has written seven novels in the universe, each a bestseller. Along the way, Hollywood has flirted with the idea of turning Ender’s Game, the first of the Ender novels and an expansion of the “Ender’s Game” novella, into a movie; a recent announcement on Hatrack River (Card’s official Web Site) stated that “Warner Brothers also recently announced that it has made a deal for director Wolfgang Petersen.” In addition, last year Card released through Subterranean Press First Meetings: Three Stories from the Enderverse, a self-explanatory collection of novellas. Most recently, he has added another novella to the saga and has reissued the collection through Tor Books as First Meetings in the Enderverse.

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The Best Military Science Fiction of the Twentieth Century edited by Harry Turtledove with Martin H. Greenberg

Best Military SF Cover

New York, NY: Del Rey Books, 2001; $18.00 trade paperback; 544 pp.

Reviewed by Matthew Appleton

This review originally appeared in the October 2001 issue (#158) of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

The need to wage war is a trait that nearly every human culture shares. As the ultimate extension of politics, acts of warfare wholly or partially define many of the turning points in human history. Writers throughout the ages, building upon and sometimes even borrowing from our oldest recorded myths, such as Beowulf, Gilgamesh, and The Iliad, prominently display this aspect of society. Of course, writers of military fiction pursue various agendas with widely differing results. Some celebrate war and the warrior-king, finding noble truths and actions on the battlefield, while others, at the other end of the spectrum, pointedly portray the horrors of war and the acts of individual depravity that occur during warfare. Yet, throughout that spectrum there is a constant: You learn about the human condition when you study individuals at war.

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Jumping off the Planet and Bouncing off the Moon by David Gerrold

Jumping off the Planet Cover

New York, NY: Tor Books, 2000; $5.99 paperback;
281 pp.

Reviewed by Matthew Appleton

This review originally appeared in the June 2003 issue (#178) of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

The discovery of nuclear fission ranks as one of the greatest innovations of the twentieth century. It ended World War II, ushered in the Cold War, brought a new form of power and fueled our worst nightmares with the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters. It also conveniently brought about the metaphor of the nuclear family, and as the twentieth century progressed, the metaphor became as combustible as the real thing. I know from experience: my nuclear family underwent fission when I was just four years old. With divorce rates in the United States hovering around 50% for a number of years now, this phenomenon shows no sign of abating soon. This unavoidable fact of modern life also provides a basis for David Gerrold’s two most recent novels, Jumping off the Planet and Bouncing off the Moon.

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Elemental: The Tsunami Relief Anthology edited by Steven Savile & Alethea Kontis

Elemental  Cover

ISBN-13: 9780765315625
ISBN-10: 0765315629
Publisher: Tor Books
Pub. Date: May 2006
$24.95, 380 pages, hardcover

Reviewed by Matthew Appleton

This review originally appeared in the July 2007 issue (#227) of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

In general, the populace of the United States has a memory problem. Events that should remain in the public consciousness for long periods of time disconcertingly get buried quickly under the latest round of’celebrity news and gossip. However, this wasn’t entirely true in the case of the tsunami that wrecked havoc upon Southeast Asia on December 26,2004. Unfortunately, a rare instance of the country actually paying attention to a significant foreign event for more than a few days ended abruptly when hurricane Katrina wrecked massive damage upon New Orleans and significant stretches of the Gulf Coast. However, like the heads of many other Asian relief efforts, Steven Savile and Alethea Kontis persevered and continued editing an anthology of original stories, of which all the proceeds (including the authors’ fees and royalties) will go to the Save the Children Foundation. The final product, Elemental, appeared on store shelves this past summer.

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The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl by Tim Pratt

Reviewed by Matthew Appleton

This review originally appeared in the January 2007 issue (#221) of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

Where I come from we don’t have castles, cairns, holy wells, or standing stones. Seeing them for the first time, they looked completely different from how I’d imagined them. I realized then that this is why so much of the best fantasy comes from the British Isles, and why so much American fantasy is so bad. Their writers grow up with ring forts literally in their back yards sometimes, while ours grow up reading their books.

Michael Swanwick, “The View from the Top of the Mountain

Rangergirl Cover

New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2005; $12.00 trade paperback; 416 pp.

Although the text is from his Guest of Honor speech at Finncon 2003, this is a sentiment I had heard Swanwick express at various book readings and signings previous to that convention. He also added that this, in part, served as an inspiration for Iron Dragon’s Daughter and helps to explain why its tone differs greatly from a large number of fantasy novels. Although that type of detritus is missing from much of America’s countryside and we lack an ancient mythology that ties a plethora of gods to our land, America does possess a different type of ruins and a much younger mythology—ones differing from the industrial modes Swanwick relied upon—that writers can tap into for uniquely American fantasy. With legends surrounding real-life figures, as well as ghost towns and abandoned mines scattering the countryside in its wake, the wild west of the 1800s provides another vein for American fantasy to mine, which Tim Pratt taps into in his debut novel, The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl.

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