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Painting of fox
Prints of this painting by Sharman, and others, are available at Sahara Cool under Animals and Birds.

3 February 2016

softcover, anthology, 22 short stories on title theme.
Reviewed by Steve Johnson.
Another nice offering from Whortleberry Press. Some great stories in this one with one of my favourites only three in. Blue Grass Dreams Aren’t For Free by Gerri Leen is a very good tale of human/horse reversal, although not perhaps as you’d expect. Lyn McConchie’s Sisters too wasn’t what I’d expected, but I really liked it, and The Food Chain by Edward Ahern sent shivers down my spine. I also really enjoyed Tom Howard’s The Last Man, (a creepy little piece) Survival of the Fittest by Jack Hillman, (also creepy) and The Man Who Was Only History by J.J. Steinfeld which acts rather like a punch in the guts. (I don’t like that version of the future, but boy is it powerful.)
I found that the two stories I didn’t enjoy as much were both set very solidly in American backgrounds, (so much so that I doubt someone not that conversant with such backgrounds may, as I did, not quite understand or appreciate them. This is not the author’s fault, it’s merely a fact. Nor is it a mistake for an editor to use the works, since she is American and the anhtology would primarily be sold there. But as someone on the other side of the world, I didn’t get a lot of the nuances and was aware of it. That said, with 22 stories, and only two that didn’t do it for me, that’s an excellent result. Chuck’s tag lines put a nice cap on the anthology too. How to sum up a story in a phrase – and he’s good at it. Recommended.

17 January 2016

Hardcover, published by ACE, December 2015.
Many of Jack’s books have been a mad romp through space, but this one has a thread of seriousness running under the surface right throughout the book. The romp is there, but the book made me think hard about a few things too.
In the Sioux Reservation of Spirit Lake an ancient teleportation facility has been excavated. It leads directly to three worlds to which modern human explorers have travelled at least once. There is the world they call Riverwalk, the world of the Maze, and Eden, a beautiful world that appears unspoiled and uninhabited. But two of these worlds are going to provide surprises, as is the Space Station which, initially not completely accessible, will open up a very large can of worms once the closed portion is opened.
And that is where the underlying thread comes in. Eden is temptation, to behave as badly as humans can or do, to take advantage, and seize unlawfully, and to assume that might is right. But there is a greater danger, which put simply is that each world or destination has new places for which they provide a jumping-off place. And what happens if the place that is found is deadly? If an explorer brings back something they can’t prevent or control? Something already has come back from the world of the Maze, it was returned, but did it stay returned? And it appeared to be benign, but will it remain so, and even if of goodwill, how much can alien goodwill be guaranteed to align with our definition of that?
The space station views have shown something that is alarming, entities have come from the Maze, and with Eden under threat, is this facility too dangerous to allow people continued access? I found that I was asking myself that as I read. What would I do? What would my decision be if it were up to me? I believe in progress, but I acknowledge that any form of progress brings a downside. Cars speed up our lives while continuing to kill and maim large numbers of us. The internet is useful, but trolling has caused the suicides of too many of those bullied.
And there is my own bugbear. The Large Hadron Collider. Yes, it is bringing new scientific knowledge, but how much use will that be to us all if the outcome at some stage is a doomsday scenario. A number of scientists have denied this possibility, and no doubt they were telling the truth as they saw it. They said that the chances of this happening were one in 50 million. Ah guys, the chances for someone to win the recent one and a half billion dollar lottery were a lot higher, and guess what, three people won. The law of chance is merciless. Sooner or later, the coin lands wrong side up and you lose. All of which makes me wonder just how safe we are from the Large Hadron Collider and a doomsday event. Which is the reason behind the main character’s decision in Thunderbird. In many ways I would protest it in real life however in real life too I would also understand and even agree.
And that’s what makes this book such a good read. There’s the excitement of looking at new worlds, the discoveries, the explorations, and the chance of something really wonderful. Then there’s the other side, in which you see the motivations of many involved and the dangers of pushing ahead too fast, and you wonder if that happened here which side would you come down on? In the end I couldn’t be certain, but I know about the Collider, If asked I wouldn’t have agreed to it, and that’s makes it possible I’d have done as Thunderbird’s character did in the end.
Still the decision was so finely balanced throughout the book that you don’t know what it will be until the final pages, and I still can’t be sure I’d agree, not quite. So I guess I’ll be reading this book every few years for the next thirty trying to decide. In the other words, yup, it’s twenty-second great Jack McDevitt. Go and buy it, see if you’d make the same decision, and remember, one chance in fifty million, still means there’s a chance!

29 November 2015

softcover, 28 stories etc. 6th in a themed series.
reviewed by Steve Johnson.
I’m going to make this fast, it’s the time of the year when a whole stack of things to do descend on me, and they have. This is one of Lyn’s author copies, I know she was really pleased to have a story in it because she is an animal-lover, but that means she likes animals, NOT what some people do in some of these stories. It’s a good anthology though.
I particularly liked Lyn’s own story, Earnest, all about a misplaced rooster. We both liked the last story too, Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk. And I loved Squonk The Dragon, Brush and Sniff, Faithful, and Gerbil 07 which had me laughing out loud. Not a bad anthology average, 25% of the stories I unequivocally liked, no reservations on anything about them. A pleasant anthology competently edited, good layout and print size, and a cover of solid quality, attractively done.

13 November 2015

softcover, 217 pages, intro, and 13 stories. From SF Trails.
reviewed by Steve Johnson.
As Lyn says, it must be the season. We’d (my wife, Glen and I) no sooner vanished off down the road in our campervan, than Lyn got in copies of two anthologies with her work and wanted me to review them. Unfortunately they had to wait until we got back, but now that ae are –
MIDDAY SUN is an editor’s choice volume. That means Mr. Riley went back over a stack of anthologies his publishing house produced previously, and selected from them the stories he likes best himself. That can be either a disaster or a triumph, and in this case it was a triumph. He attracts a number of talented writers, and in any of the Trails anthologies I usually like about half of the stories a lot. In this one out of 13 stories I really enjoyed all but two. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the two, just that they didn’t appeal to me. So –
last up were two I liked best, the editor’s own tale The Preacher, (with a punchline that made me LOL, I could just hear that weary, faintly ironic comment in my head) and J.A. Campbell’s, Serpent’s Rest, which sent shivers down my backbone. They Zapped With Their Boots On was a very solid riff on alternate worlds, while Ching Song Ping and the 53 Thieves had a whiff of Ali Baba about it and made me smile at the final line. Also excellent were Lyn’s A Day Out Shopping (which I enjoyed when I first read it in ms) the first of two stories by John Howard, Kit Volker’s Art Lessons, and C.J. Killmer’s, Forewarned is…
All in all this was a great anthology, and I think that the editor could do a lot worse that to produce a second ‘editorial choice’ anthology sometime in the future, if only because his taste seems to allign with mine.

9 September 2015

tradepaperback, published 1998 by HarperCollins.
I saw this when it came out years ago, speed-read my way through an item or two and bought it on the spot. And every 4-5 years I re-read it and chuckle happily. (This week was the fourth time.) I might not recommend it to those that are under thirty, they won’t remember a lot (if any) of the subject matter, and half my enjoyment in reading this comes from remembering the events pilloried, but for those in their forties and up it’s a gem of a book.
It’s based on a column written for TRUTH (a weekly newspaper) by the author, with a sprinkling of other articles written around the same time for The Sunday Star Times and the NZ Herald. They are both clever and funny, but often add in a pointed comment or two, and while now and again I didn’t always agree, I always enjoyed the writing. Copies are still around, and if you like a good laugh – with some excellent social commentary (and a lot of non-PC) buy one. My regret is that the author doesn’t seem to have written a sequel.

22 August 2015

Tradepaperback published New Holland (Australia) 2007.
And yes, some of them certainly would have been embarrassing merely making them all the funnier to anyone that wasn’t involved. The compiler has trawled a wide variety of areas to bring this lot together and I’ve found that it’s not just readable, but re-readable. Third time of reading since purchase and I found them just as funny. There’s the suspected drug dealer who escaped from police by racing into a forest. He might have been harder to find if he hadn’t been wearing sneakers with battery powered lights that flashed off and on at each step. Then there was the newswoman on Australian TV who was chatting with an expert on prostate cancer. Asked the lady of him “and what percentage of women are affected by this disease?” Ah well… And so the book goes on, as did my giggles. Yes, this one was definitely worth the cover price.

9 August 2015

Paperback, published TOR August 2015.
And very sadly, the last in the series. I got this in the mail (pre-ordered) yesterday, read it in gulps all day, and today is the review. Look, this is a great book, still more of the same and I loved every word, but it’s bitterpsweet. Yes, another Kitty book, but also that’s it. On the other hand – Many years ago Andre Norton wrote what was intended to be the final (last word and no more again) book in her Witch World series, The Warding of Witch World. yes, well, it wasn’t the last book because she changed her mind. It’s possible Carrie Vaughn will too, and even if she doesn’t and there are no more books, there’s always short stories to fit into odd parts of the series arc, and when there’s enough of them there can be a collection, and more new short stories and…
But this one was great. It finished the saga of the Vampire long game very satisfyingly, brought back several old friends from earlier books, hinted at a possible romance for Cormac, and convincingly allowed Kitty something she wanted. No, I’m not spoiling the book by being too explicit. I enjoyed it too much to ruin it for other readers. Go buy it yourself, if you like Kitty at all you shouldn’t be disappointed. But with no Kitty to look forward to I may have to buy the first in the author’s other three books – which up to now I haven’t bought because I got hooked on Kitty. Hmmm. I wonder how many other ‘Kitty’ readers out there are saying the same thing. Could be great for sales of Discord’s Apple, After the Golden Age, and Dreams of the Golden Age.

13 July 2015

If you never read these when they were published by DAW in 1979 and 1982, try to lay hands on copies now. They were seminal women’s anthologies then, now they are still unbeatable. Sadly, a number of the authors within have passed on, but here were some of the best stories they ever did. Janrae Frank (late and lamented) had Wolves of Nakesht in the anthology. I wrote to her at the time and we remained writing, then emailing casually from then on. I wrote the foreword to her own story collection, feeling then and even now, that her work never received the credit it should have. There were Andre’s Falcon’s Blood, C.J. Cherryh’s The Dreamstone, Janet Fox had Morrien’s Bitch, and there was the clever, savage “The Rape Patrol,’ by Michele Belling. (Who seems never to have written another story that I can find – although if that was it, that single story is a heck of a legacy.) Elizabeth Lynn, Megan Lindholm, Charles Saunders, Joanna Russ and T.J. Morgan, (an elderly academic who wrote in Welsh, and who died some 7 years after this story’s publication.) all writers who produced great stories.
Three years later the editor, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, did the second, Amazons II, and it was at least as good. Again she enticed superb authors to write her a story, and again the stories too were superb. F.M. Busby’s For A Daughter, (the gone and lamented writer) Jo Clayton’s Nightwork, George R.R. Martin’s In The Lost Lands, Gael Baudino’s Lady of the Forest End, and stories by Gilliam Fitzgerald, Phyllis Ann Karr, Elanear Arneson, Tanith Lee and Ardath Mayhar. My deep regret was that DAW never asked Jessica Amanda Salmonson to do more of these anthologies, they had the highest incidence of terrific stories I ever encountered in anthologies, selected by an editor who knew what she was doing, and knew too that you don’t just toss a bunch of stories together and hope they blend. (JAS did other excellent work beside editing, if you like solid s & s, look at her Tomoe Gozen books.) Those of us who still have our Amazon’s copies regularly re-read them, in fact it was doing just that (for about the twentieth time) this month that produced this review. And note that after almost forty years I can STILL re-read them and enjoy that each time… So if you’ve never run into these anthologies, see if you can lay hands on copies, because believe me, they were – and always will be I believe – worth more than the time and money you’ll spend. (I understand that Amazons – the company – have PDF’s for download. Run, do not walk…)

1 July 2015

I watched this because I dearly love an end-of-the-world oe disaster movie. Then too it had Emma Watson whom I also like. Sadly I was disappointed. The work reminded me of the elderly Edwardian lady’s advice to the young man.
“Funny is good, funny and vulgar is permissable. But be one or the other and never merely vulgar.”
It isn’t that I don’t like crass humour, I enjoyed the Porky’s moves and others of their ilk, but they managed to be vulgar AND funny. This one failed. It was confusing, humourlessly crass and a self-indulgent mess. A pity, as I’d hoped it would be otherwise. But, sic biscuit disintergraf.

14 June 2015

Published 2015 Abacus paperback.
Another gentle pleasant book in the series. I thought that perhaps this was a trifle more lightweight than previous books, but the sheer charm of the characters always carries me into finishing and adding the book to my shelves. And in this story there are genuine problems to solve. At Speedy Motors there has been a slow townturn in business and they can no longer afford to have two assistants there, so Charlie as the one who has still not gained his mechanic qualifications must be fired. Precious Ramotswe promptly hires him to work in the detective agency, but how will she pay him and can she find enough work to keep herself and Mma Makutsi going? And even if she can manage those things, how much use will Charlie really be? And while she is resolving those questions she is also coping with her assistant who has opened The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Cafe with dubious staff, and with the return of Violet Septhotho who has become a restaurant cric and is delighted to have the opportunity to criticize anything at all in which Mma Makutsi is involved. The story takes the scenic route through all these events and after I closed the book I decided that all in all it had been interesting. I’d enjoyed the tale, the characters and the events, and the book has joined the rest of the series on my shelf. Lightweight? Yes, a little, but it is still a ‘keeper’ to be re-read and re-read in future, and really, you can’t say better than that.

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