Content by Peter D. Tillman
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Reviews Written by
Peter D. Tillman (Taos, NM USA)
5.0 out of 5 stars
A+ : outstanding genre-bending entertainment., Jan 22 2004
I'd been hesitant to read one of these, despite rave reviews by people
I trust - I'm not much of a fantasy reader, & we're talking vampires,
zombies and werewolves here. Well, folks, what we _really_ have is
a book in the class of the Harold Shea books - one that bends genres
and transcends them.
Let me back off a moment, & tell you what I usually read. I'm in the
mining business, educated as a geologist & chemist. I like my SF hard,
& I'm uncomfortable with gore. So why would I _like_ (let alone
rave about) a vampire book with (literally) buckets of blood? Hint -
it's probably not the scene where, as a joke, Anita tosses a cop the
severed hand from a dismembered infant...
It _could_ be the scene where Anita (5'2", 102#) disarms a _large_
rapist by sticking her derringer in his crotch & threatening to blow his
Anita's hard-boiled alright, but she's an uneasy executioner, a
necromancer with scruples, even a soft touch sometimes - she tries to
give a pretty prostitute a bus ticket out of town to "start over" (the
whore laughs in her face). The gore is an integral part of the story, &
the supernatural is treated as just a part of everyday, late 20th C. life -
as alternate history, really (I don't usu like alt hist either). I'm
reminded somewhat of S.M. Stirling's Gwen in "The Drakon" (another
A+ book) - tho Gwen is more cheerful at work. For sure Anita's no
Nick Seafort. I'm not sure I'm getting across here, but *read the book*
and see what you think.
If nothing else, it will lay to rest any lingering thoughts that women
can't be as bloody-minded as men.
review copyright 1997 by Peter D. Tillman
| by Sarah Zettel|
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
4.0 out of 5 stars
A fine & twisty feminista space-opera., Jan 22 2004
This one sat on my 'to-read' shelf for a long time, after I bounced off her first, Reclamation, which has an excruciatingly slow start. Fool's War was a New York Times Notable Book of 1997 (and Reclamation won a Locus Award for Best First Novel...)
The setup is uncomfortably topical -- the story-now is 500 years after violent religious wars, started by Islamic extremists, almost wrecked Earth. The subsequent diaspora to the colony worlds simply spread out the same old hatreds. Now the ugly chickens are flapping home to roost....
I can't say very much about Fool's War's plot without spoiling things for you, but Zettel spins an impressively twisty tale. She constantly plays with the reader's expectations, and she (mostly) plays fair -- though her storytelling craft still has some rough spots in this sophomore effort. A cover blurb compares her to Heinlein and Asimov, but there's more than a touch of Van Vogt's signature rapidfire scene-changes here.
Fool's War is somethng of a grrrl powr-fantasy -- and I do like a well-done power-fantasy, especially one with a light touch. Here's Pilot Yerusha, in a moment of reflection within the storm of denouement: "I'm saving the human race so I can go on a date..." If you like to see femmes kicking butt that *needs* kicking, you'll like Fool's War.
Zettel's authorial hand does get a bit heavy with her villains, and in pointing characters where they need to go for the next plot-twist. But overall it's good, clean fun, and I'll have to do some Zettel catchup reading soon.
review copyright 2001 by Peter D. Tillman
5.0 out of 5 stars
A true laugh-out-loud farce. Don't miss!, Jan 22 2004
I've been looking forward to reading this book, & I'm happy to report
that it's great fun - a marvelous concoction of foam & froth. If you've
missed the first two DM books (Crown Jewels & House of Shards, both
worth seeking out) - Maijstral is an impoverished aristo turned
Allowed Burglar in the Khosali Empire, a mannered society ruled - or
at least with standards set - by faintly canine aliens.
(...) skipping lightly from one silly episode to another,
never losing momentum or control. I lost count of the number of
times I laughed out loud. Other reviewers compare the Maijstral books
to Wodehouse or Panshin's Anthony Villiers books. I liked this one
more than the Panshins; I found it comparable to Wodehouse at his
best - high praise indeed.
5.0 out of 5 stars
Well-written mil-SF/romance, fast-paced & fun., Jan 22 2004
As Apocalypse Troll opens, 25th-century humans have been at war
with the alien Kanga for centuries. The Kanga are on the ropes; in
desperation they send a battle group into Terra's past, to cut off the
foe at the roots. BatDiv 92, Terran Navy is soon in hot pursuit. The
two task forces virtually annihilate each other. Col. Ludmilla
Leonovna shoots down the last Kanga ship -- with some help from
the US Navy of 2007 -- but is herself shot down by the last cyborg
Troll's fighter. She falls to Earth, and into the arms of USN Capt.
"Take me to your leader", she said with a perfectly straight face.
The last Troll is at large, with 25th-century weapons and a
bioengineered compulsion to waste humans. Ludmilla must
convince 21st-century Earth of the terrible danger they face...
Ludmilla is demonstrating her
sidearm: < *BIG* flash-bang here >
"What the hell *is* that thing? What d'you call it?"
"I'm afraid we call it a 'blaster'," she said apologetically...
It's all good, clean fun and brother, do those pages turn -- this one
kept me up til 2 AM. Everything *works* here -- the people, the
aliens, the future technology, the battles, the romance .... I had a great
time, and so will you.
Apocalypse Troll is Weber's 18th published novel, but apparently was actually his first written, some ten years ago. This would have been a very impressive first novel -- I have no idea why it ended up as a "trunk" novel.
5.0 out of 5 stars
Westlake's funniest book?, Jan 22 2004
This is Westlake's "how not to publish a bestseller" guide. It's *wonderful*,
Westlake at his comedic best. The writer-protag's um, unusual love-life
makes for wonderfully silly bedroom-farce, and his troubles in the book
biz sound like Westlake rounded up every bad thing that ever happened to
him, or that he'd ever heard of. All this plus an unexpectedly sweet
ending. If you like Westlake, books, or bedroom farce, this one's for
you. "A", maybe "A+".
5.0 out of 5 stars
A fine personal history of "big science" in the 20th century, Jan 21 2004
Like many, I started Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time"
(1988), bogged down, and set it aside. Thorne's book got equally good
reviews, but my God, the thing's 600+ pages.... so it sat on my "to-
read" shelf for years. This tardy review is intended for others in
similar circumstances -- or for anyone interested in modern physics &
The book is written as a history of 20th century physics, from
Einstein's theory of the relativity of space & time (1905), to black
holes, gravity waves and wormholes in the 90's. I found this a very
engaging approach. Thorne's writing is (usually) clear and direct, and
he includes enough biographical tidbits and anecdotes to keep the
human juice in potentially dry topics.
A few gems: Einstein's college math professor Minkowski, who had
called the young genius a "lazy dog", later worked out the
mathematics combining space and time into "absolute spacetime."
Einstein made cruel jokes denigrating Minkowski's work, not
realizing, until after Minkowski's death, that his old teacher's math
was essential to Einstein's special relativity work.
Cosmic radio waves were discovered by a Bell Telephone engineer in
1932. Despite widespread publicity, professional atronomers weren't
very interested -- the first radiotelescope was built by a radio "ham",
in his mother's back yard in Illinois, in 1940. The first professional
radiotelescopes weren't built until after WW2, in England and
Australia; Americans didn't become competitive until the late 50's.
Thorne has a fair command of Russian, which gave him an "in"
when the USSR started allowing scientific contacts in the post-Stalin
era. Now that Russia is such a mess, we forget that the Soviets
produced a *bunch* of world-class scientists and engineers [note 1],
from the 1930's on -- including some of the best physicists since
Dr. Thorne, the Feynman Professor of Physics at Caltech
is best known to the
general public for his 1988 wormhole "time machine" proposal. Press
coverage included a photo of the author doing physics in the nude on
Mt. Palomar. Embareassing, but didn't hurt the book sales. The
wormhole work grew out of a request from Carl Sagan for a plausible
FTL transport scheme for his 1985 science-fiction novel "Contact"
(which I recommend). Sagan's request made Thorne realize the value
of thought experiments that ask, "What things do the laws of physics
permit an infinitely advanced civilization to do, and what do the
laws forbid?" This style of speculation by world-class scientists has
become popular (and somewhat respectable) in the last decade, and
has resulted in some very stimulating reading, such as K. Eric
Drexler's "Engines of Creation" (1986), and Hans Moravec's "Mind
Children" (1988) and "Robot" (1999).
My last exposure to formal physics was two painful undergraduate
courses (mumble) years ago. Since then I've kept up at roughly a
Scientific American level or below (plus I read a lot of science fiction).
I think I'm close to the author's aim-point for his potential audience.
I found some of the physics tough going, but these sections can be
safely skimmed without losing the thread of his arguments. I read
most of the book in two sittings -- it's surprisingly gripping. So --
don't put off reading "Black Holes" any longer!
Note 1) --along with some remarkable pseudo-science. Iosif Shlovsky tells
of many such projects in his very entertaining "Five Billion Vodka
Bottles to the Moon" (1991).
| by Sheri S. Tepper|
|Price: CDN$ 21.42||
5.0 out of 5 stars
A classic -- still her best novel., Jan 21 2004
"Grass! Millions of square miles of it... a hundred rippling oceans,
each ripple a gleam of scarlet or amber, emerald or turquoise... the
colors shivering over the prairies... Sapphire seas of grass with dark
islands of grass bearing great plumy trees which are grass again."
So opens Grass, Sheri Tepper's first fully-successful novel and
perhaps still her best. When I first read Grass, I realised that Tepper is
a genuine wild talent, taking SF in new and unexpected directions.
If you've read any Tepper, you'll have noticed that she takes a pretty
dim view of human nature, especially among men -- and of religion,
especially patriarchal religion. The standard Tepper themes are here --
of course, they weren't standard back then -- but handled lightly and
thoughtfully, with only a bit of the didactic ham-fistedness that mars
some of her later books. What I didn't remember about Grass is the
splendid sense of place she evokes -- Grass emerges as a fully-formed,
beautiful, and thoroughly alien world. The formative image of Grass,
to the Colorado-born & raised Tepper, is that of the American Great
Plains after a good spring, which is indeed an oceanic experience --
one that your Oklahoma-raised reviewer has shared, and misses.
Sanctity, the noxious world-religion of Tepper's Earth, is explicitly
modelled on Mormonism. Mormon readers ('saints') will not be
flattered -- though Tepper has exaggerated for effect. Sanctity is not
nice. At times it verges on cartoonish, but then I would reflect on the
banality of evil.... Tepper does a good job, handling evil. Beauty (1991)
is her masterwork of evil -- a remarkable book, but not for the
squeamish. "Down, down, to Happy Land..." Ugh.
The Hippae aren't nice, either. Neither are the Hounds, another
Grassian species she introduces in the Hunt, and splendidly develops
as the novel progresses. I've seen criticism of Grass's ecology, but to
this non-biologist it seems reasonably sound, certainly good enough
for fictional background.
The extreme isolation and strange behavior of Grass's rural
aristocracy are again drawn from Tepper's Western experience. Larry
McMurtry has written eloquently of just how strange isolated
pioneers could get [note 1], and I remember similar stories from
Oklahoma. Tepper, McMurtry and other senior Westerners (like me)
are just one lifetime distant from the frontier...
Marjorie Westriding -- besides having a wonderful name, and a
remarkably irritating husband -- remains Tepper's most memorable
character. The NY Times says she's "one of the most interesting and
likable heroines in modern science fiction." Well, "me too."
Westriding appears in two more of Tepper's books, but is far less
memorable in those (sigh). But she's *great* here.
The Great Plague, ah, that's where the dodgy biology lies, and it's a
pretty contrived Maguffin, too. And the wrap-up gets a little mooshy
and pat. But these are quibbles. I had a great time re-reading Grass,
and you will, too. Highly recommended.
Note 1.) -- in his recent essay collection, Walter Benjamin at the
Dairy Queen (highly recommended), and in almost all of his
historical novels. Of course, many of the pioneers were pretty strange
to start with....
Review copyright 2002 by Peter D. Tillman
| by Nicola Griffith|
|Price: CDN$ 12.99||
5.0 out of 5 stars
Smart, edgy thriller/power-fantasy. BLUE PLACE rocks!, Jan 20 2004
By page four of Nicola Griffith's The Blue Place (Avon, $23), we've
met the tall, beautiful, smart and deadly Aud Torvingen, heard about
the recurring nightmares that have her walking Atlanta streets at
midnight, ...and witnessed a house explode. Things slow down a
little after that, but ...it's hard to overpraise the taut plotting and
broad intelligence of this thriller. ...what makes The Blue Place
stand out is its precision. You constantly feel like you're getting
the inside dope on new worlds, including those of martial arts,
woodworking, Norwegian foods and dress styles, ice hiking
and burglar alarms...
-- Paul Skenazy, Wasington Post
I'm too lazy to write a real review --but here are some
snippets, and a (virtually) spoiler-free commentary
-- and look for the author's comments on the review
continuation page at Amazon: Aud as James Bond(!))
Aud Torvingen, dressing to meet a new client:
I felt sharp, rich, very good looking. It pleases me to wear silk
couture and gold and pearls. I like the way it feels on my skin,
the way it fits.
And looking out into her Atlanta garden:
Two cardinals trilled liquidly at each other, bright red against
emerald green. One of the neighbour's cats slunk belly down
through the grass towards them. Snakes in fur coats, Dorothy
Parker had called them.
The book ends in graphic blood & terror. Aud gets revenge, but
puts herself in terrible jeopardy. I'll be most interested in how she
resolves her predicament in the sequel.
[ A reader writes, at nicolagriffith[dot]com ]
"I don't understand your ability to create such beauty and
such pain and such darkness. I am pretty devastated ...by the
ending of The Blue Place."
[NG responds: ] "I've had many responses on the
subject which range from: "I'll never read anything by you
again!" to "I admire your courage..." That last one is usually
accompanied by a doubtful shake of the head.
I imagine that when such readers finally get hold of the second Aud
book, they'll be even more annoyed <g>. I can hear the complaints
already: "How can you *do* that to her?!"
There have been mundane complaints that Aud is smarter, stronger,
faster and sexier than you (or indeed any mere human). This is true.
If power-fantasy offends you, do not enter The Blue Place!
5.0 out of 5 stars
A splendid book , a major achievement., Jan 20 2004
First of all, if you have the slightest interest in the geology of Mars, or in maps, or in planetary science (and, if not, why are you here?) you *need* to read this book.
"This is a splendid book and a major achievement in the study of Mars.... A number of authors might fairly claim to have written the best Mars novel, but this is the best factual book on Mars that money can buy."
-- New Scientist, Google for online review
"When the investigator, having under consideration a fact or group of facts whose origin or cause is unknown, seeks to discover their origin, his first step is to make a guess." --GK Gilbert, Science 3(53), 1896 (which codified the method of multiple working hypotheses). Gilbert, of course, was "one of the happy generation of American geologists who...took their impressive beards and intellects to every corner of the American West."
Tidbits: Gene Shoemaker's first map of Meteor Crater, in 1957, was done for the old AEC, as part of a truly crackbrained scheme to manufacture plutonium by detonating uranium-wrapped A-bombs underground. Which, thank heavens, never got very far. Gene didn't like the idea, either, but who's to turn down funding?
No map of exotic lands is complete without exotic names, and the map of Mars is well-stocked: Noctis Labyrinthus, the Labyrinth of Night. Tithonium Chasma, Albe Patera --a volcano that occupies an area about equal to that of India --Claritas Fossae, Utopia Planita... Olympus Mons! Formerly Nix Olympica, the Snows of Olympus --and the highest mountain known to humanity. Mauna Kea, Earth's biggest volcano, would fit comfortably inside Olympus' summit caldera. OM contains some 3.5 million cubic km of rock--or the area of Texas, if excavated 8 km deep. This is one *humongous* mountain. And Vastitas Borealis, the northern lowlands, is arguably the flattest place in the solar system.
I like the respectful attention Morton pays to science fiction about Mars -- which echoes the attention and affection paid to SF writers by working planetary scientists. Of course, sometimes these are the same people, as with UofA planetologist, novelist (Mars Underground, recommended), photographer, artist and all-around Renaissance man Bill Hartmann (who we really should invite as an AGS guest speaker); and Geoffrey Landis, a NASA space scientist and parttime novelist (Mars Crossing, recommended) who helped to develop the Mars Pathfinder.
About the only place that Mapping Mars fails us is in the illustrations. The publisher made a valiant effort, but an octavo-format book just doesn't have the page size for drama. Fortunately, you can Google for suitably-impressive maps and photos of Mars.
Happy reading! -- Pete Tillman
Consulting Geologist, Tucson & Santa Fe (USA)
| by Maxine McArthur|
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
|Price: CDN$ 17.63||
4.0 out of 5 stars
A richly-imagined SF mystery/space opera. "B+", Jan 20 2004
New author McArthur is off to a fast start in this classy CJ Cherryh-style
space opera, which opens in media res and never lets up.
Earth is a very junior member of the Confederacy of Allied Worlds, a
David Brin-esque organization where the senior Four Races control the
high-tech goodies and call the shots. Jocasta is a war-surplus Station in
a ruined system, given to Earth as a political sop, but Station
Commander Halley is making lemonade from this lemon -- until the
mysterious Seouras blockade the station. And no one can figure out
what this fleetload of well-armed and (literally) slimy aliens really
There are some first-novel rough spots here, but the characters are
exceptionally well-drawn, even minor ones -- here's Helen Sasaki,
deputy Security chief: "She is tall, shy, brusque, tenacious and
inventive..." And small, rich details abound -- Halley is speaking:
"I once went for three years without seeing another human... It was
very... stressful. You have to constantly think... There's no autopilot.
You can't trust your common sense, because you have nothing in
common with anyone else."
There are loose threads dangling at book's end, but a sequel, Time Past,
is promised for next year. I'm looking forward to it.
Maxine McCarthur, an Australian, won the George Turner prize for
Time Future. She has lived and worked in the Outback, New Guinea
and Japan, as well as urban Australia -- near-perfect preparation for her
tales of conflict and intrigue among an amazingly mismatched
menagerie of sentients.
Review copyright 2001 by Peter D. Tillman