Here is another reprint of old reviews. This was my first column for the Wilson Library Bulletin, originally published in the May 1988 issue.
“Science fiction,” I told my boss, “is like olives. Either you cultivate a taste for it, or you can’t stand it. Very few people are in between.” She just smiled and shook her head. She does that a lot.
While I know that many of you have cultivated the taste (for science fiction, not olives), I’m also aware that most of you have not. I won’t be offended if you’re one of those who hates it. Yet you want to do the best you can for your patrons and customers who do fancy the stuff. Well, I think I can help.
A few words of introduction, and then we can get down to business. I’m a science fiction writer and public library paraprofessional. From my base here at Dons Acres, I’ll be giving you periodic updates about what’s happening in the world of sf. (Yes, some people call it sci-fi -- but to someone in the field, that’s a little bit like picturing librarians as wrinkled, grey-haired old women.)
The great John W. Campbell once defined the genre this way: “Science fiction is what science fiction editors buy,” and that's the definition I intend to use. Thus, when I refer to sf you can assume that I mean the related genres of science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction as well as the occasional piece of nonfiction.
Now let’s to work.
Mike Resnick is a dependable storyteller whose unusual characters and settings are nicely original. The Dark Lady, which is set against the interstellar art world of the 70th Century, is no exception.
The narrator is Leonardo, a nonhuman art appraiser working for a large gallery on the planet Far London. Without quite knowing how, the meek Leonardo finds himself embroiled in a mystery when he runs across several paintings of the same dark-haired woman...paintings done thousands of years apart.
In pursuit of this Dark Lady, Leonardo is thrown into association with misanthropic collectors, art thieves, mad artists and even a bounty hunter or two. He risks his status, courts banishment from his home world, and eventually hazards his life before learning the secret of the Dark Lady -- a secret that will change him forever.
The background is fascinating and the central enigma tantalyzing -- but ultimately the success of The Dark Lady is in Leonardo himself, and his progression from a timid creature of the herd to something more Human...and far more interesting.
A relatively recent phenomenon is sf publishing is that of the shared world anthology. A number of authors write stories set in a common world; their characters reappear in each others tales, sometimes the same events are retold from a different viewpoint. Shared worlds are usually fun for both writers and readers, and publishers like them because they sell well.
Fever Season is the most recent volume of tales set in C. J. Cherryh's Merovingen Nights world. (The first was Cherryh's novel Angel With the Sword, followed by the shared world anthology Festival Moon.)
At the mouth of the Det River on the world Merovin is the city Merovingen, a city reminiscent of a mixture of ancient Constantinople, medieval Venice and modern New Orleans. Barefoot traders and smugglers ply the canals of Merovingen while murderers and thieves lurk in the shadows; meanwhile, in the perfumed apartments of the upper class, nobles pursue their Byzantine schemes for wealth and power.
It is fever season in Merovingen: moving with the yearly plague is something darker, more treacherous -- war and betrayal. Thomas Mondragon is the one man who can keep the city from exploding...and Mondragon lies immobile in his fine house, a secret victim of the fever. His friends -- a rifraff collection of canalers, spies and traitors -- are the last hope of the beleaguered city.
And the fever still spreads...
Shared world anthologies, almost by their nature, are disjointed. Fever Season, though, has a coherence that others of its type lack. Indeed, it reads more like a collaborative novel than a collection of short stories. Cherryh, who serves as editor for the series, has done her homework. Not only do transition chapters link the various chapters, but the volume contains an appendix with maps, an explanation of diseases and treatments, and even a few songs.
All this work shows: Fever Season is captivating, and weaves a spell of pseudo-reality that persists after you finish the book. SF fans who like shared worlds will love it; a reader of historicals who is looking for something a little different would not, I think, be disappointed.
One of the most original new voices in science fiction is that of Melissa Scott. In 1986 she won the Campbell Award, given by fans to the best new writer of the year. Time has proven that the fans were not mistaken.
The book that established her reputation was Five-Twelfths of Heaven, published in 1985. The next year saw publication of a sequel, Silence in Solitude. Now, at last, the trilogy is complete...and the final book, The Empress of Earth, more than fulfills the promise of the earlier books.
To read The Empress of Earth is to step into Melissa Scott's world -- and a delightful world it is. In this universe, Einsteinian physics has been supplanted by a new physics based on the teachings of Aristotle and the Hermetic sciences of the Middle Ages. Magi study the mystical arts while satraps and Hegemons rule over a vast empire.
In the hands of a lesser writer, we might have wound up with a retelling of the Arabian Nights. Instead, Scott has made Hermetic magic the basis for a whole technology. Her Magi are the scientists of this universe; starships fly through the mystical dimension called Purgatory in order to reach distant worlds; and the Hegemon’s empire is one of planets, not deserts.
Into this universe comes Silence Leigh: a woman who has learned the male skills of piloting and magic. With her two husbands and her teacher Isambard, Silence has conquered every obstacle to her goal of finding the way to lost Earth. She has the skill, she has an ancient star map that shows the safe road to Earth -- and she has the help of the Hegemon himself.
The road is difficult, but what lies at the end is harder; for Earth is under the control of the despotic Rose Worlds, and great mystical siege engines block the way. Silence Leigh has overcome every obstacle so far...but can even this remarkable woman bring freedom to Earth?
Empress of Earth is a gourmet feast for those who like science fiction. The mystical technology is so well-conceived and exhaustively thought-out, that by the end you will find yourself convinced that it is real. The characters are finely drawn and will soon become fast friends: crusty Isambard, stolid Chase Mago, wily Balthasar, and of course the indomitable Silence herself. The action is nonstop; plan on losing sleep because you won’t be able to put it down.
Indeed, Empress of Earth has only one flaw, although it is a major one: however devoutly we wish otherwise, the book ends.
Any sf reader will love this book...and those who have not yet acquired the taste might give it a try. I guarantee, its not at all what you expect.
The Dark Lady by Mike Resnick. Tor, November 1987. $3.50. 279 pages.
Merovingen Nights #2: Fever Season edited by C.J. Cherryh. DAW, October 1987. $3.50. 297 pages.
The Empress of Earth by Melissa Scott. Baen, November 1987. $3.50. 346 pages.
Moved to new site - With the (temporary?) end of the Legion, this seemed a good time to move to my own Legion site. Over there you'll find a post on what I would do with the L...
4 years ago