Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Quick Takes: Sheila Williams, Daniel Keys Moran, Matthew Stover

Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine: 30th Anniversary Anthology, by Sheila Williams (editor): This is one impressive anthology! That’s how I’ll start out my little blurb / whatever about the 30 year anthology from Asimov’s. Generally if I find myself enjoying at least half the stories in a collection or anthology I feel good about it. Lou Anders and his Fast Forward 1 was a shot in the arm with how good an original anthology could be. But this 30 year retrospective from Asimov’s Science Fiction, with stories covering all stages of the magazines growth – this is a doozy! There are Hugo winners galore, but it isn’t just a reprint of award winners. Many Hugo winners are left off, and to keep the length down Sheila Williams did not go with the longer novellas for this anthology. But from John Varley’s opening “Air Raid” through Octavia Butler’s “Speech Sounds”, work by Mike Resnick, the ubiquitous “Lobsters” by Charles Stross (seems I can’t go anywhere without tripping over this story), newer work by Kelly Link and Robert Reed (which would be the two of the three stories I had previously read and the two stories I did not care for) – this, if anything ever is, a Must Read anthology of science fiction. There is fiction from Isaac Asimov, Ursula LeGuin, Jonathan Lethem, Lucius Shepard, Kim Stanley Robinson, Stephen Baxter, Connie Willis and more. Give Lou Anders another thirty years and he should be able to come up with an anthology to match this one, but until then, go with this 30th Year Anthology from Asimov’s Science Fiction. Outstanding stories here, and the less impressive stories are merely good and quite fine on their own.

The Last Dancer, by Daniel Keys Moran: After having this book on my reading list since 2005 and having had a desire to read it for almost a decade more than that, I found The Last Dancer was available free online. Finally. This is the third volume of the Continuing Time series begun with the disappointing Emerald Eyes and continuing with The Long Run. It was The Long Run which I had read first, and which sucked me into this odd techno future of web dancers, AI, and a story of a man called “Trent the Uncatchable”. Parts of the story are hokey and clunky (most often character names...it shows, at times, that Moran created this world when he was a teenager), but generally The Long Run was a fast paced fun ride of a novel. Where the first book was about the entire Castanaveres family, and the second was about Trent, this third volume focuses mostly on Denise Castanaveres, one of the two living Castanaveres telepaths (Trent, though her brother, is not a telepath...just uncatchable). Denise hires herself out as a bodyguard to a politician she can mostly believe in (her personal moral code is central to the novel), and finds herself involved in a millennia old war between super humans. It is with The Last Dancer that the reader gets a hint of the scope of Continuing Time. There is a section nearly two thirds of the way through the book that Moran takes the focus off of Denise and tells the story of another set of characters only to return to Denise for the conclusion. This was off putting at first, but I was able to settle back in to the story. I can’t say that The Last Dancer is an outstanding work of fiction, but there is a good sense of adventure and fun (though everything is quite serious), and the reemergence of Trent in this volume is a treat, though even Trent is mostly serious. What I can say is that I enjoyed reading The Last Dancer and look forward to The AI War, which Moran is currently working on.

Traitor, by Matthew Stover: When I read Shatterpoint, the Clone Wars novel dealing with Mace Windu (aka Sam Jackson), I was impressed. That was a work of Star Wars fiction which really got to the darkness of the human soul in war time. The novel was a fine line of the Light vs Dark Side of the Force and Matthew Stover became a name for me to watch. I later read his novel Heroes Die, and it was clear that Stover can right some seriously badass fiction. Stover’s Traitor was one of the volumes of the New Jedi Order I was most looking forward to reading. Where other New Jedi Order authors were broadening the scope of this 19 book mini series, Stover delivered a deeply personal story. Jacen Solo had been missing and presumed dead for the last several volumes since his brother Anakin Solo was killed by the Vong. Because he was never shown to be clearly dead the reader’s assumption is that he was alive, just captured and shut off from the Force. Traitor is Jacen’s story and it keeps tight focus on Jacen and his captors, in particular the mysterious being Vergere. Jacen is imprisoned and tortured while Vergere teaches Jacen her version of the Force and life in general. It is a warped, twisted view that does not jive with everything Jacen has previously been taught, but there is a certain amount of consistency to it, too. Is Vergere teaching Jacen to betray the Jedi and the Galaxy? Does Vergere have another agenda? Whom does she serve, and what will Jacen believe? Traitor does not offer simple answers or a simple story, but thus far in the New Jedi Order it is easily the strongest story, for all the darkness. It is a personal story. It is one of the best Star Wars has to offer.

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