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Initial post: Jan 6, 2012 8:40:47 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 18, 2012 8:34:05 PM PST
R. E. Conary says:
Have you written a customer review for a Science Fiction novel that you particularly liked (or hated)? Share it with other readers here. Reviews only, please.

Insert the book's product link and post a copy of the review you wrote. That's all.

Customer reviews help me discover authors I haven't read before and often influence whether or not I buy a book. I, for one, look forward to reading as many reviews as possible.

Thank you and enjoy.

REC

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NOTE 1: If you write a lot of reviews, please post no more than one review a week here so that as many readers as possible can share what they've written. Thank you.

NOTE 2: If you wish to comment on a particular review, please "click" on the book's product link, go to that review, and leave your comment in the section provided there rather than posting here. Thank you.

NOTE 3: Authors -- Please don't post reviews of your books here. There are other discussion threads for that. Thank you.

Posted on Jan 6, 2012 9:17:09 PM PST
Cycle of Fire

four stars
My first Hal Clement, but it won't be my last., November 9, 2009

Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Cycle of Fire (Mass Market Paperback)
This book starts with the alien, before introducing the human. Then Dar, the Abyormite, meets up with Nils, the Earthling, and they proceed to have adventures. Gradually, the truth about the planet, Dar's people, and, well, *somebody else* becomes known. The first half of this book, maybe the first two thirds, would make a great movie.

The last part is probably too talky for a movie, but I really quite liked it. The stuff on planet formation is particularly interesting, because this book came out in 1957, and there has been a TON of discoveries in the field of extrasolar planets, starting in the 1990s. I would have expected Clement to be utterly, spectacularly wrong about this subject, but it seems he isn't too far off. Maybe he was playing it safe?

I have mixed feelings about the ending, and I can't really say why, because that would be a spoiler. I don't have any trouble recommending this book. I'm reading an airship book now, by another author, but will be reading Clement's _Mission of Gravity_ before too long. I've read good things about MoG.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 6, 2012 9:52:10 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 6, 2012 10:07:07 PM PST
Tom Rogers says:
Hi Sailor, my impression of a lot of Clement's longer work is that he often seemed to have more interest in his exotic set ups than the more gritty and mundane business of working through them to the end.

I'll start off with the review which I enjoyed writing the most and instead of copying the review here in all its prolix glory, I will provide the Amazon link to it:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R25ABKJEE2P73G/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

I reviewed "Nova Swing" because I'm a style junkie and M. John Harrison's books have that in spades, and perhaps to lesser extent because we seem to be psychic twins, except for the climbing thing--I've got the mountaineering compulsion too, but I won't go any place my dog can't go.

Posted on Jan 7, 2012 9:27:26 AM PST
I just reviewed a 3-of-6 book series by Charles L. Grant. ISFDB says only three books in the 1970s series were published, but I read something different in the third book's preface. The first three books are (1) The Shadow of Alpha, (2) Ascension, and (3) Legion. The reviews are all part of the same series... hence the three posts.

Posted on Jan 7, 2012 3:49:50 PM PST
Huh, this is embarrasing. Here's the only Science Fiction novel review (not counting Star Wars novels) I have:

Clans of the Alphane Moon

Philip typically has a Big Question that underlies his books such as "What is reality?" or "What does it mean to be human?" He typically doesn't answer these questions, but leaves them up for the reader to decide. In this book, the question is "What is sanity?"

It's the 21st century. The human race has set up colonies in the Alphane system. On one moon, Alpha III M2, a mental hospital was set up for those who couldn't handle the mental pressures of colonization. A war broke out between the humans and the native Alphanes, and as a result the mental patients have been left to their own devices for the past 25 years. The moon is now legally independent. The patients have broken up into Clans based on their ailments - the Deps are depressives, the Pares are paranoids, the Skitzes are schizophrenics, and so on.

Mary Rittersdorf, a psychologist, is ostensibly recruited for a mission to treat the patients, although the true purpose is to re-establish the human legal claim to the moon. She is in the process of divorcing her husband, a CIA (Counter Intelligence Authority) agent named Charles Rittersdorf. Also assigned to the mission is "Dan Mageboom," who, unknown to Mary, is not a human but a sim, a robot which can either run on its own or be remote controlled. Charles is assigned to operate the robot. Then he contemplates killing his wife...

Typically with a Philip Dick novel, your ability to suspend your disbelief will be stretched a bit. Are the children of crazy people necessarily going to be crazy themselves? Well, if the whole world is crazy, what is sanity? And as the action switches back and forth from the Earth to Alpha III M2, you'll find yourself thinking "Are the Terrans any more sane than the, um, M2ians?"

4 out of 5 stars because, although this is quite good, he's done better ("Valis" and "The Divine Invasion.")

Posted on Jan 9, 2012 11:33:33 PM PST
Jonathon K says:
Paradise: A Chronicle of a Distant World

Five Stars

Some books are just good reads. They are fun and entertaining, but without deep messages. Lawrence Watt-Evans writes these kind of books, and I thoroughly enjoy them. Other authors strive to reveal the meaning of the universe, with deep messages and philosophy, but they can't tell a good story. In trying to imitate James Joyce, they perhaps write a meaningful book, but one which is work rather than a pleasure to read.

Mike Resnick bridges the gap and is able to write an engrossing tale which is wrought with meaning. My first Resnick book was Ivory, and to this day, it has had a significant effect on my outlook on life. Santiago, the penultimate space western, is another of my favorites. But Resnick's truth is perhaps most evident in Paradise, A Chronicle of a Distant World.

Paradise is about Peponi, a distant world, rich in wildlife and populated by a people without a high degree of technology before it is "discovered" by mankind. Men arrive on the planet, then reap its riches. After years of subjugation, the natives finally begin to push for independence. While armed armed rebellion is put down, from its ashes a native leader, Bukon Pepon, is able to forge the various tribes together and gain independence from the Human government.

Upon independence, most men leave the planet for distant shores and dream their dreams of the paradise that Peponi once was. Other men stay to create a new dream. But both men and pepons (the natives) watch their economy and resources dwindle away as overpopulation, hunting, tribal factionalism, and the introduction of non-native species their toll.

Told through the eyes of Mathew Breen, a writer who has made a name for himself writing about the planet, we follow along Peponi's transformations. The book begins with an interview with August Hardwyke in his last years, one of the old-timers who remembers when Peponi when men first came, when he felt it truly was a paradise, wild and free. After his book about the early pioneers is successful, Breen interviews Peponi ex-patriots, men and women who lived through the native uprisings. To some of them, just prior to the fighting was when Peponi was a paradise. We follow Breen as he is invited to write the biography of President Bukon Pepon, and then when he returns yet 14 years later to see how far the planet has deteriorated.

Paradise is about Peponi, but it is also about Kenya. Some of the characters, places, and wildlife in the book have obvious analogs in human history. The pepon leader Buko Pepon is Jomo Kenyatta and his successor, Nathan Kibi Tonka is Daniel arap Moi. The Republic's ex-secretary Jonathan "Johnny" Ramsey is Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt. The Kalakala uprising is the Mau Mau uprising, Landships are elephants and demoncats are lions. But other analogies are not as evident except to people who have studied modern Kenyan and African history.

Writing a novel with such strong analogies to history could easily result in a cumbersome, boring book. But Paradise is far from that. On the surface level, Paradise is a fun read. It is about hunting, war, vast lands, and people working together. I was taken back to reading as a kid about white hunters such as Osa and Martin Johnson and John A. Hunter. Resnick's style and storytelling ability put you in the bush, chasing a wounded thunderhead shot by a rich man's spoiled son. I was transported into the dense forests of Mt. Hardwycke trying to track down the Bogoda tribesmen carrying out the kalakala.

On the deeper level, I fought against the path Resnick was taking. I did not want the mistakes made by the European colonial powers and the native Africans to be repeated on Peponi. As a child, my family sponsored a family of refugees from Uganda, and I did not want to see the same kind of exodus in this book. I did not want to see natural resources plundered and the land destroyed. I did not want to see famine and death as we've seen in Biafra and Ethiopia nor the ethnic cleansing as in Uganda and Burundi. But the book plows on, true to life and history.

Paradise also works because Resnick resisted the opportunity to preach. Just as Breen is described as having been neutral in his retelling of the story or Peponi, so Resnick does not let his personal views on Kenya be known. Yes, he describes a spiraling downward trend in the quality of life of the people and the health of the planet, but he does not point fingers at any particular group. Are the colonial powers at fault for the decline of Peponi? Is it corrupt or inept native governments who are at fault? Is it some of both? Resnick presents a tale and then lets the reader come to his or her own viewpoint.

On the surface level, for those who read to escape and to relax, Paradise fits the bill. You don't have to know African history to enjoy it. For those who want something more out of a book, Paradise also fits the bill. It will probably spark an interest in modern African history, and it will certainly get the reader thinking.

There are two science fiction authors whose books I will buy and read just by seeing their name on the book cover. Mike Resnick is one of them (the other being David Brin). Paradise is a good example of I feel this way.

Posted on Feb 4, 2012 5:25:44 AM PST
This week I wrote a review for Brian Aldiss's fairly well-known Greybeard and the very much lesser known The Wandering Variables by Louis Trimble (along with his story story Probability). Busy week.

Posted on Feb 13, 2012 8:06:59 AM PST
William L.K. says:
Dune (40th Anniversary Edition) (Dune Chronicles, Book 1)

~5 STARS~
First off, if you have not read this book, buy it now! Do not waste another second, buy it, read it, and then read it again!

This book still captivates me after all these years. Even if you are not a fan of science fiction, I would find it hard to believe this book will not grab your attention immediately. This is a science fiction tale no doubt, but it is much, much more than that. At the root of this story is an epic adventure about a young man coming of age. The relationships and conflicts he encounters are told with such passion that the reader cannot help but feel deeply for the trials and tribulations of the young Paul.

I have yet to discover a book that has moved me the way Dune has. It's unfortunate that many won't go near the book because they didn't like the movie. If you are of this opinion, I would strongly urge you to reconsider.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 13, 2012 2:25:44 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Feb 13, 2012 5:31:36 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 18, 2012 8:44:50 PM PST
R. E. Conary says:
William L.K.,
Thank you for reminding me of DUNE. I haven't read it in several decades and quite agree with you that the movie was a pale reflection of Frank Herbert's excellent original.

Posted on Feb 18, 2012 9:23:28 PM PST
***** 5 stars *****
Post-Human and Trans-Human

Simpson's Post-Human (Trans-Human) series is the only transhumanist science fiction that goes far enough. This is the best science fiction series I have ever read! Part 2 Trans-Human (Post-Human Sequel) is even BETTER!

Posted on Mar 9, 2012 3:05:26 PM PST
First Admiral

I put this up on the UK site

"I found this book to be a surprisingly good read. The premise of a downtrodden teenager who is - in a secret and dangerous double life - a military genius/space admiral intrigued me, and Benning did not disappoint. There was plenty of action in this adventure, but without bad language or sexual content that makes it suitable for younger readers. The science of the sci-fi is simple with his Trion Theory - the manipulation of the fundamental particle of the Universe to produce instantaneous universe-wide travel and communications - being both very simple to understand and astonishingly plausible. It's a lot easier than Warp Drives, and quite topical with what is happening at CERN.

Strong female characters also populate the "First Admiral" universe making it refreshingly different from a lot of other books in the genre. The characters were complex individuals whom Benning developed quite skilfully as the narrative progressed.

As the first novel in the series - according to the author's website - "First Admiral" is a good starter/foundation title.

It's not 5-star material - yet - but, the potential is there in the developing storyline.

Suitable for both younger and adult readers, I would recommend "First Admiral".

Posted on Mar 9, 2012 8:22:13 PM PST
Rrusty says:
Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 - 5)

5 Stars (along with over 92% of all other reviews for this book!!!)

Don't start reading this unless you can afford to lose sleep...
...because in the war between sleep and reading just one more chapter, I can assure you sleep will not win! I am best described as a casual reader. I typically only read 30-45 minutes a night before going to bed. After reading Wool 1, I decided to wait a couple of weeks before jumping into the second book. Lucky for me, the Omnibus edition came out and has allowed me to fully consume the whole series! I immediately found myself going to the bedroom early just to get started reading more Wool and remained lost in the silo until well after midnight each night. I read slow, so most books of this length take me weeks or months to finish with many breaks along the way. Not with Wool! Even at my slow pace, I consumed the Omnibus in a few nights.

I'll make my review simple: The Wool Omnibus is the best science fiction series I've read in the last 47 years (hint: I'm 47 years old)!

I can't wait for the silo prequel series to start! (and I've already read the sneak peak 1st chapter of the 1st book over on Hugh Howey's website)

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 10, 2012 3:21:48 AM PST
Interesting that Garbriela T. has only three reviews and all of them are for books by the same author.
Not that it means anything. Just that its interesting.

Posted on Mar 14, 2012 9:14:15 PM PDT
Luminous and Ominous

On one level this is a combination end of the world and post apocalyptic novel - because we move back and forth between two different times. Two objects strike opposite sides of the world - and threy are both infected with the seeds of many alien life forms. These can consume earthly life forms and turn it into their own form of biomass - but the reverse doesn't seem to be the case. Eath creatures become infected and transformed. The areas of alien infestation spread rapidly. We alternate between scenes of the initial impacts and scenes of some survivors who hid in a bomb shelter, but must eventually emerge for supplies, to see what is left, and evetually because other humans force them to emerge for their own reasons.

I'm not normally into post apocalyptic novels, and could ordinarily go either way on alien invasion novels. Yet the alien animals and plants are so well thought out, so various and fascinating, and so eerily beautiful and deadly at the same time. Combined with the good writing and strong characterization, that would be enough to bring this novel from a three to a four star.

Something else turns it into a five star novel, one which you remember and think about long after you're done. Ultimately this novel is about the human condition and transformation into something we claim to abhor yet will not quite pay the price to avoid. It is possible to live near the alien creatures and not be infected - a couple of cats are smart enough to do it. Ultimately the question is what humans must give up to avoid being infected, and if they partially desire to be transformed underneath. Even if you are not perfect, a partial effort may be enough to avoid transformation - if you truly make it. While I haven't gone into detail about each character, we care for them all as individuals, and find a little more of ourselves in some of them than we would want to.

Posted on Mar 15, 2012 3:40:15 PM PDT
Specklebang says:
I'll second that review of Wool. Also, I finally found another Dune. God's War: Bel Dame Apocrypha Volume 1 just blew me away. I read all night and bought the sequel before I went to sleep finally. Incredible world building and plenty of action. I've been promoting this book ever since hoping the author will produce more.

Posted on Mar 16, 2012 3:06:01 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 18, 2012 4:25:38 PM PDT
Encounter with Tiber

This review is from: Encounter with Tiber (Mass Market Paperback)

The hard science fiction novel Encounter with Tiber is an excellent example of the genre. It is literally packed with interesting science, engineering, and technological explanations.

It is basically two interwoven stories. The human part is in the present and near future (say, 60-70 years) and is concerned with the activities and people involved with the revived human attempts at space exploration and colonization. Two factors spur their efforts on: the privatization of space technology; and the reception of signals from a planet in the planetary system of Alpha Centauri A, part of a binary star system that's about 4.3 light years (about 25.4 x 10^12 miles or 43.0 x 10^12 kilometers) away from Earth. The planet of origin of the signals is eventually named Tiber and its inhabitants become known as Tiberians.

The alien or Tiberian part of the book describes the extraterrestrials' history, culture, biology & physiology, and political institutions in some detail. Because their planet is about to be rendered uninhabitable within a couple of centuries, they have been sending out robot probes to nearby star systems in a search for a suitable planet or planets to which they can migrate. Such a probe has previously examined Earth, and the transmitted data is so promising that a "manned" expedition is sent to reconnoiter the planet in person.

These two parts are woven together by a historian who is on the human starship that's traveling to the Tiberians' home system in the late 21st Century.

One character in particular, whom I guess was supposed to be a sympathetic character, was the astronaut and astronomer Chris Terence. Initially, he seemed to be a highly competent and brave astronaut. However, he proves himself to be supremely arrogant; he apparently thinks that the taxpayers should be happy to spend billions of dollars (with no expectation of any return whatsoever) solely so that scientists like him can "do science" and discover "what matters." In a later part of the book, Chris Terence proclaims that, in the 19th Century, the entire American West from Texas to Washington (state), should have been left "unspoiled," a fertile playground for anthropologists, geologists, and naturalists. Such an elitist hostility toward development turned me profoundly against him. But, hey, that's just my opinion. There is one scary possibility, however. Could Terence's elitist "pure science" attitude be NASA's official position today? That certainly would explain their less than stellar performance, over the last forty years, in advancing real (manned) space exploration, industrialization, and development.

I thought that it was quite astute of the authors to have the Tiberians' actions on Earth serve as the seeds of various religious myths that would eventually be passed down through the millennia by humans. This was not done explicitly, but it was easy to pick out certain scenes (the runaway lander, the pillar of fire, the flood, the burning bush, the hovering lander(s), the Tiberians' weapons) and imagine how the orally transmitted accounts of these events could have been distorted and embellished over time.

I've noticed that, in about 20% of the reviews of Encounter with Tiber, readers are complaining about the science, engineering, and technology that are liberally scattered throughout the book. Well, HELLO...! That's why it's called SCIENCE fiction.

Posted on Mar 16, 2012 3:11:38 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 16, 2012 3:31:09 PM PDT
The Two Georges: A Novel of an Alternate America

This review is from: Two Georges (Mass Market Paperback)

"The Two Georges" depicts a world in which the American Revolution never happened and all of North America remains a part of the British Empire. The geographical area that we know of as Canada and the United States of America (minus Alaska, which, in this time-line, remains a part of Russia) is a dominion called the North American Union (NAU), whose capital is a city called Victoria, located on the Potomac River. It is set in the year 1996 of this alternate history. In this world, the geopolitical landscape is filled with empires, the main ones being the British, Russian (headed by the czar), Franco-Spanish, and Ottoman Empires. In fact, there are few areas that have not been absorbed by one empire or another. The imperialists of the late 19th and early 20th century of our own history would have loved this world!

The technology of this world seems comparable to that of about 1890 to 1920 in the current time-line, with some touches of the `30s ("airships") and the `50s ("televisors") thrown in. Steam-powered cars ("steamers") are common in the streets of New Liverpool (the alternate Los Angeles); the internal combustion engine doesn't seem to have been adapted to ground transportation. Airplanes do exist, but they are World War I-like biplanes that are mostly used by the military and "gentlemen" scorn their use for civilian travel, considering their speed (200 mph or so), when compared to that of airships, to be unseemly. In this alternate time-line World War I and World War II did not happen, and thus, the technological innovations that occurred because of them did not happen, as well.

Socially and politically, the world depicted seems somewhat utopian. When a murder is committed early in the book, one character comments that this brings the total number of murders for the year in New Liverpool to five - "...and this is only June!" By comparison, in our time-line, Los Angeles had about forty-five murders per month in 1996.

There seem to be no racial or ethnic tensions. Blacks are the clerks and bureaucrats of choice in both business and government. People of Nuevespanolan (Mexican) and Native American (Cherokee and Iroquois) descent are well and seamlessly integrated in the society, as are immigrants from other parts of the British Empire, such as those from India and China.

The society seems to be more rigidly stratified by socioeconomic class. This, in my opinion, is not surprising for two reasons. First, since the head of state of the British Empire is the King-Emperor, His Majesty Charles III, the royalty remains a functioning and controlling part of society; it has not atrophied as it has in the current history. Second, Britain has always been a rather class-conscious society and if the colonial bonds had been maintained, the societies of the New World, being under British domination, would likely have evolved in a similar fashion.

The authors managed to introduce into their alternate world analogs of historical personages with whom we are familiar. There is the largest used car salesman in the North American Union who calls himself "Honest Dick." Because his wares are so prone to breakdowns, he is known colloquially as "Tricky Dick." The publisher of a pro-independence newspaper based in Boston, but with nationwide circulation, turns out to be a rich, aging philanderer named John F. Kennedy. Also, the Governor General of the NAU, the King-Emperor's chief colonial administrator for North America, is Sir Martin Luther King!

The story begins with the world-famous painting entitled, "The Two Georges" being somehow stolen from the California Governor's mansion, where it is on display. The painting shows George Washington and King George III coming to an agreement that defused the dissatisfactions of the American colonists and prevented their grievances from erupting into revolutionary violence. The painting has become highly symbolic of the unity and amity between Britain and North America.

The job of recovering the painting falls on Col. Thomas Bushell, the commander of the Royal American Mounted Police (who for some reason are called RAMs (Royal American Mounties) rather than RAMPs) in California. He is assisted by his adjutant, Capt. Samuel Stanley, who is black.

It turns out that the painting has been stolen by members of a revolutionary cabal called the Sons of Liberty, whose ultimate goal is to separate North America from the British Empire and establish an independent republic. One of their slogans is, "George Washington was a traitor!" The ideology of the Sons of Liberty is anti-black, anti-Jewish, and anti-immigrant. To this reader, the organization seems like an alternate history version of the Ku Klux Klan!

The thieves demand a ransom payment of fifty million pounds sterling from the NAU government for the safe return of "The Two Georges". Col. Bushell and Capt. Stanley race hither and yon over the territory of the NAU, tracking down leads. They are deathly afraid that the colonial government will pay the ransom - and, even worse, that the painting will be destroyed anyway.

I did find the book to be imminently believable. But that's only to be expected since Harry Turtledove is the acknowledged master of the alternate history genre. The book has a Victorian feel about it, which, I suppose, was intentional. However, have no fear! The book is not filled with the convoluted sentences and arcane vocabulary that one might expect in a "Victorian" novel.

Some readers have complained that the novel is a "slow read" and I would have to agree. I've read everything that Harry Turtledove has written in the alternate history genre and I must admit that I've never had to struggle - trudge would be a good word - to get through any of his other books as I have through this one. (By the way, when I read the book a second time for a book club meeting, it went much faster!) Nevertheless, the world depicted by the book is a fascinating one and that - along with the usual twists and turns of the standard mystery novel - kept me going.

I've gotten a chuckle out of the fact that some Canadian readers seem to feel almost a longing for the world of "The Two Georges". Of course, the Canadian experience with the British Empire has, in our current world, been different than that of the United States. And, even more important, each nation's political history and traditions since the late 18th century have been vastly different. So, of course, some Canadians and Americans might have a vastly different take on the book.

In conclusion, the alternate history novel "The Two Georges" is definitely worth reading!

Posted on Mar 16, 2012 3:42:59 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 16, 2012 3:44:43 PM PDT
Household Gods

This review is from: Household Gods (Mass Market Paperback)

"Household Gods" can be considered to be a "wish fulfillment" story. Many people have probably wished, at least occasionally, that they lived in a different time and place. After all, that is probably one basis of the old phrase, "the good old days."

Nicole Gunther-Perrin, the heroine of the novel, is a Los Angeles lawyer and a divorced single mother who's having a bad day with her job, her kids, and her deadbeat-dad ex-husband. In her bedroom there is a votive plaque picturing two Roman gods Liber and Libera that she believes is a copy of the one made in the Roman Empire 1,800 years before. But is it just a copy?

As she goes to bed, Nicole wishes that she were in those times. "I wish I'd lived then," she says. "It would have been a good time to be alive, not so...artificial as it is now. Not so hateful."

It turns out that the plaque is much more than it appears to be; Nicole is transported through time and space to wake up in the body of one of her very distant ancestors. She, to her utter astonishment, has become Umma, the owner of a tavern/restaurant in the provincial Roman town of Carnuntum, in what will become present-day Austria, at around 170 CE. As an afterthought, the gods have given her the ability to speak, read, and write Latin.

To her credit, Nicole realizes quickly that she does not dare to tell anyone of her identity. At the very least, she would be thought of as crazy and she does not think that Romans treated mentally ill people with compassion. At worse, she could be executed as a witch or an evil spirit.

Nicole has a lot late 20th century "politically correct" notions about what is "right" and "wrong." Since her father was an abusive drunk, she considers alcohol to be bad under any and all circumstances. She is thus horrified to learn that her ancestral alter-ego, Umma, sells wine. She is also shocked to find that she is the proud owner of Julia - a slave! And Julia is a prostitute on the side.

Across the street from her shop is the shop of a fuller/dyer named Titus Calidius Severus. He is a retired legionary. He poses another complication for Nicole because he is also Umma's boyfriend. Unfortunately for Nicole, in his profession he uses a lot of fresh urine - contributed by passersby who urinate into pots set out for that purpose in front of his shop - to process and dye wool. As a consequence, a nauseating stench wafts off him more or less all the time except when he goes to the public baths. With her 20th century aversion to odors, Nicole has a hard time getting used to Titus and his shop, but she manages to do so after insisting that Titus go to the baths before coming to see her.

We see Nicole/Umma as she "learns the ropes" about how to run her business. She gets a lot of help from Julia - without, of course revealing that she is a 20th century mind in a 2nd century body. She visits Carnuntum's public baths, outside of which she sees a slave being beaten. With her 20th century sensibilities, she protests to the overseer and is told bluntly to get lost. She is taken on a "date" by Titus to the town's arena, where she sees "beast fights," first between a lion and a bear, then between an aurochs (a species of giant wild cattle, now extinct) and a pack of a dozen wolves, and then, as the piece de resistance, a murderer being fed to two lionesses.

Nicole undergoes the horror of a disease epidemic, during which maybe a third of the inhabitants of the town die. Among the fatalities are people who are close to her, people about whom she has learned to care during her sojourn in the past.

Then the town is attacked and occupied by Germanic barbarians. She learns to cope with that, managing not to be raped or have her home and business wrecked by drunken barbarian warriors. Finally, the "cavalry" arrives - in the form of several Roman legions that liberate Carnuntum and the surrounding territory. During that action, she is raped by an anonymous Roman legionary in full armor.

Summoning the full fervor of her 20th century righteous indignation and her 20th century lawyerly skills, she lodges a formal, written protest with the Roman bureaucrats who are based in the town council hall. The skill with which her protest is written earns her a meeting (along with a luxurious dinner) with the Emperor himself, Marcus Aurelius, who has been personally commanding the military effort to beat back the Germans. She uses this opportunity to press her case that the Roman government - in effect Marcus Aurelius - owes her compensation for having been raped by a Roman legionary. Amazingly enough, she wins!

The authors have done an excellent job of bringing to life the sights, sounds, and smells - especially the smells - of a 2nd century Roman town. The authors have clearly done a lot of research into the Roman era. I would, of course, expect such from Harry Turtledove, who holds a doctorate in Byzantine history and is the acknowledged master of the alternate history/time travel genre. I have no way to judge Judith Tarr's contribution since I have not read any of her other work and am not aware of her particular talents.

Even given my knowledge of Turtledove's usual attention to detail, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the character Titus Calidius Severus was an actual real person. He was a centurion (Latin sp.: centurio) or an optio (sources vary) in the Fifteenth Legion (Legio XV). His brother had a monument to him erected that still exists today.

I did find Nicole/Umma's meeting with Marcus Aurelius to be a stretch. Why would the most powerful man in the known world of that time deign to meet with a tavern-keeper - and a woman at that - no matter how well-written her "brief" was? Yes, Marcus Aurelius is regarded today as a "philosopher-king." But since he made efforts to restore "that old time religion" (the ancient Roman and Greek virtues), he would naturally be conservative and traditional in outlook, which included thinking of women as the virtual property of men. Also he would have looked askance at religious interlopers. In fact, he considered the Christian doctrine to be dangerous to the welfare of the Empire. So he, therefore, has gone down in history as a persecutor of Christians. He was probably not as accommodating as he was depicted in the book. But that's just my opinion.

When Nicole is finally returned to the modern world, she goes to a bookstore in search of a book that is written in Latin. She wants to check that her experience in the Roman world has not been a dream and that she can still read Latin; it turns out that she can, thereby validating her experience in her own mind. Satisfied, she then leaves! To me, it would have been natural - even obligatory - that she should want to find out as much about the Roman Empire as possible, particularly about the reign of Marcus Aurelius and the town of Carnuntum. Her lack of curiosity is truly remarkable.

Many other reviewers have expressed astonishment, and even distaste, at Nicole Gunther-Perrin's apparent lack of even basic historical knowledge (especially for a lawyer who, presumably, has had at least a few history courses in her undergraduate education), her preening, misinformed assumptions about the Roman Empire, and her rather arrogant "political correctness." While I can understand such an attitude, I myself did not find Nicole to be so off-putting. I feel that the authors deliberately set up Nicole's attitudes as exaggerated straw men to be battered by the harsh realities of the Roman world.

And I have to say that it was a pretty good move by the authors to have Nicole not being placed in Rome itself, but rather in a provincial town on the frontier of the Empire. It was an equally good move to have Nicole's distant ancestor not being an aristocratic matron. Both contributed to this reader's willing suspension of disbelief. This, of course, is the goal of any fiction writer.

Posted on Mar 16, 2012 4:37:39 PM PDT
Review for The Star Crystal by DC Daines.

From the moment I started reading The Star Crystal, I couldn't stop. In fact the only thing that did was my eyes drooping as I began falling asleep at 4:00 am. The Star Crystal universe is unlike any other and the characters are realistic yet completely unique and have superb interaction and top notch dialog. The action scenes are truly a treat and are the kind that have you at the edge of your seat hunched over the pages as you shout in support of the character. The ending is like none other and one you have to read to fully understand. With elements of fantasy mixed in a science fiction world set in a world in need of heroes, D.C. Daines creates a story unlike any other I have read and leaves me wanting more of his work and salivating a the thought of more writings from him. As an author and science fiction fan I give The Star Crystal 5 stars and two thumbs up, well four depending on species. This is a must read for those who enjoy reading work from new and promising authors who provide quality work rather than useless dribble. I won't force anyone to buy this book, but I think any fan of Science Fiction is missing out on reading it~Benjamin J. Snider.

Star Crystal

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 16, 2012 4:50:40 PM PDT
Specklebang says:
This is a common problem here. Authors of usually bad books arrange their own reviews. If they were smarter (and better writers) they would give away their books until they got real reviews.

My experience is that all the self-reviewed books are totally lame. Everybody can be an author these days. My cats can write better than most of them.

Posted on Mar 16, 2012 9:12:36 PM PDT
sonjabs says:
Frankensteel

Frankensteel by Robin Craig - hard science sci fi - philosophical and fascinatingly believable!

As the blurb goes if you are into science fact and thinking this is for you!

I REALLY liked the strong character development and interactions, and from a female perspective it was excellent to see an independent thinking strong female lead.

I had to focus through the first chapter to then be delighted by the evolving life philosophy and principled characters, to find I was absorbed into what appeared believable and fascinating.

Thoroughly enjoyable!

I was left hoping that this was the start of a series of books using like philosophical threads and characters.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 16, 2012 9:29:26 PM PDT
Specklebang says:
WORTH REPEATING
This is a common problem here. Authors of usually bad books arrange their own reviews. If they were smarter (and better writers) they would give away their books until they got real reviews.

My experience is that all the self-reviewed books are totally lame. Everybody can be an author these days. My cats can write better than most of them.

Posted on Mar 17, 2012 10:50:31 PM PDT
"Everybody can be an author these days. My cats can write better than most of them. "

My Adventures with Mice, by Blossom

An engaging story from a completely alien viewpoint. You actually understand what it's like to have night vision and a nictitating membrane in the eye. The reduced colors, the smells, a breeze on whiskers, it's all there. The chapter where Fluffy goes into heat was at once intensely erotic and heart-wrenching. The frequent encounters with dogs had me starting at shadows, while the simple joys of lying in the sun made me want to purr.

But it is in the encounters wiith mice that Blossom's talent really shines. You feel every quiver of adrenaline, every step forward and freeze into immobility, and then the wild dash towards victory and the slacking of hunger. A movie could never capture this feeling. They could show the visuals, but never the intensity of focus, the patience, the thriil of the hunt.

Four stars. I have to take one back because this book has some of the damndest typos. But even with that, if Blossom writes anything else, I want to read it.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 18, 2012 4:19:43 PM PDT
Specklebang says:
Maybe you could tell us where to get this? Not found on Amazon. How about a link?
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