SFRevu

SFRevu: June 1997 Vol. 1.0
1997 by Ernest Lilley

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Reviewed this issue:Wyrm - Mark Fabi / Einstein's Bridge - John Cramer / The Blackgod - Gregory Keyes / Destiny's Road Larry Niven/ Lifehouse - Spider Robinson / Bolo Brigade - W. H. Keith, Jr.

You are encouraged to copy, forward, or use portions of SFRevu in other publications as long as SFRevu and Ernest Lilley are credited, the contents are not changed, and standard rates for materials for your publication are paid. Payment for any portion of SFRevu used should be sent to: Ernest Lilley, 240 Prospect Ave. #521, Hackensack, NJ 07601. Copies of SFRevu are available to individuals by Email by request from SFReviewer@aol.com. Send materials for review to: Ernest Lilley, SFRevu, co Synaptic, 215 College Rd., Paramus, NJ 07652.

I started SFRevu as a forum for my reviews which I tend to write more of than can find outlets for. Having been an editor (Sci-Fi Talk Frequencies), I fully understand the space limitations publications suffer, but often after I finish my word allotment I still have a lot I want to say about a book.
Of course, if you're looking for reviews for a genre related publication or website, or you want an exciting, informed, and opinionated panelist for an SF Con, you can contact me at SFRevu@aol.com.

I hope you enjoy the issue, and look forward to getting feedback. Really.
 

  Ernest Lilley

"Wyrm is a hugely enjoyable book. All hackers should have this book; so should anyone interested in artificial intelligence, the Internet, computer viruses, role-playing games, mythology, science fiction, Lewis Carroll or Monty Python. Anyone not in this group has my sympathies." - Charles Sheffield
 

Wyrm is a thoroughly well written book with an intelligent premise and interesting and well constructed characters. It shows that good reading and techno-fiction need not be strangers. The characters author Mark Fabi creates provide a storyline that balances a well thought out whodunit with viruses, artificial intelligence, the internet, and everything.

Wyrm arrived on my doorstep the day that IBM's Big Blue chess program took on the world of Chess Masters once again in late April '97. Intentional or not, it couldn't have been better timing, as the story starts with Michael Arcangelo, freelance virus hunter, being called in to debug a chess program running against a grand master in a competition. The program wins against all comers, which is not the point of the story, but that the program seems to be getting better and better and that the virus that infected it can't be found is.

Along the way Michael hooks up with Al, short for Alice, another virus hunter at the chess match. Though a professional virus buster in her own right, Al is less at home in the world of hackers and computer desperadoes and thereby manages to serve a number of useful functions in the story. First as an everyman character to help make sense of the story for the geek-challenged and second as Michael's girlfriend to warm up the human side. I enjoyed both equally, and had to keep going to find our what would happen next.

Wyrm takes place all over the real world, and extensively in the online world of MUDs (Multi User Dungeons - role playing games) as the virus hunters follow clues to uncover the aims and origins of the Wyrm, a self aware virus that eats other viruses for breakafsast and is in the operating system of every major computer in the world.

In his examination of the computer virus, the author throws a number of interesting concepts our way. Including the idea that information viruses may have been around much longer than computers, growing, breeding and fighting for space in the human consciousness or in societies. If the human mind is a biocomputer, what does a biocomputer virus look like? Can a biocomputer virus infect an electronic computer? Wyrm posed questions that left me thinking about them long after the book was finished.

Mark Fabi is a psychiatrist when he's not writing fiction, or maybe even when he is, and his knowledge of Jungian and Freudian concepts adds to the rich tapestry he's woven. Add Wyrm to the annals of important cyber fiction along with books like True Names and Snowcrash

ContentsWyrm / Einstein's Bridge / The Blackgod / Destiny's Road / Lifehouse / Bolo Brigade

John Cramer's second book snuck up on me. It bills itself on the cover as a novel of hard science fiction, and that's just the way I like my SF, so I picked it up. For a ways into the book that hardness translates into a story constructed much like a good martini...the finest gin chilled and tainted with the merest hint of vermouth. Dry? Extremely. Hard SF? Supercarbon. Then I came to the olive. Who expected a compelling plot and good characters? Author, I think I'll have another.

John Cramer is a working physicist, that class of Hard SF author that writes science from the inside out. I have to go back and read Twistor, his first book, to see if it was nearly as good as Einstein's Bridge. One can only hope. Comparisons to the best of Gregory Benford, Robert Forward, and James Hogan are in order. If John Cramer can maintain the quality of his work, he will more than give them a run for their money.

The story centers around the fate of the universe and the Superconducting Super Collider that has been on the drawing board through the past two presidential administrations. As the story starts out, a hive intelligence in another universe becomes aware of the ultra-high energy emissions from the SSC and starts making plans for constructing a wormhole (specifically an Einstein-Rosen Bridge) between the two universes and taking over. The Hive excels at displacing everything in its way and has destroyed a number of young intelligences already. To it's confusion it's been getting harder and harder lately though to take over universes. That difficulty is supplied by another universes' inhabitants who are determined to cherish new intelligence when they find it and protect it from the Hive's destruction. Much of the book is a race between the two universes to save us, but the best part comes in a desperate effort by the central human protagonists to save our universe, after it's destruction.

Alice Lang, an upcoming disaster novelist, decides to get inside the SSC to do research posing as a science reporter for her latest novel about giant mutant fire ants caused by the project. The author treats even this part well, and we develop respect and affection for Alice as she finds herself in the middle of a bigger disaster than even she can imagine. And she can imagine a lot. She also finds herself in love with George Griffin, a high energy physicist who will find himself drawn into the conflict between universes and ultimately stand as the last line of defense against annihilation. The characters are engaging and extremely well conceived. Given his day job at CERN the major European center for high energy physics, it's hardly surprising that he knows what makes scientists tick, but John Cramer shows an adroit understanding of politics, business, publishing, and media as well.

The science is impeccable, well explained and important to the plot. Sadly, the role of hard SF in the 90's is largely to lament the failure of initiative and public will to push science forward. From the space program to high energy physics, the country has consistently backed away from the very kinds of research that fueled the current technological boom. Where will the next boom come from? We may not know, and Einstein's Bridge doesn't quite tell us, but the author clearly suggests that, to paraphrase a popular science disaster novelist, Science will find a way.

ContentsWyrm / Einstein's Bridge / The Blackgod / Destiny's Road / Lifehouse / Bolo Brigade

Niven's newest saga of Terran colonization fits into his second universe as a sequel to Beowulf's Children and Legacy of Heroit. This time it's about a colony expedition sent by the Terran UN following the presumed failure of Earth's first colony, Camelot, in the TauCeti System. The previous books were written by the writing team of Niven, Barnes and Pournelle, but Destiny's Road is pure Niven. The fleshing out of near space colonization is a theme Niven made his career on, filling the universe with Puppeteers, Protectors and the ever popular Kzin. Like a number of authors whose careers have outlived their early vision though, Niven is now writing in a universe constrained by contemporary technology. Many of the best authors in SF have given up FTL and teleportation along with a universe rife with aliens. Slowboats and aliens too diverse for us to easily understand are now the rule. In Protector, Niven's story of the super-intelligent alien progenitors, he points out that intelligence and freedom are tradeoffs. When you know the results of your actions before you take them, you are forced to accept responsibility for them. Gibson, Niven, even Clarke have rewritten their future history's to acknowledge the maturing of both their characters and the technologies that drive SF.

Jemmy Bloocher is a farmboy in Spiral Town, the eldest son and due to soon take over as head of the house. When he kills a merchant in a bar, he flees his home where the cost of protecting him would be the loss of the merchants trade. The merchants are hated for their intrusion into Spiral Town's culture, but tolerated for the life sustaining spice called "speckles". Destiny's Road starts in Spiral Town at one end of a road carved by the fusion engines of one of the colony's two lander/shuttles as, according to local history, the lander crew deserted the colony. The road is traveled by caravans of merchants bringing speckles, a seed containing a mineral lacking in the local diet and necessary to human survival. To tell too much is to rob the author the chance to unfold the culture and biosystem of Destiny, which he does in the best tradition of SF.

This is a journey saga as Jemmy travels the road to find it's end, and unravel the mystery of the deserting lander, a journey from which no one has ever returned. Along the way he learns about love, surfing, life on the lam and how to cook a pretty fair omelet. He also learns what lies at the end of the road, and It's pretty good Niven. The characters benefit from the author's experience, but it's not the new Ringworld that his new cosmology needs to equal the previous N-Space. There is a larger story being told here, beyond the individual lives and worlds in the series and I'm looking forward to traveling Niven's road to find out where it leads.

ContentsWyrm / Einstein's Bridge / The Blackgod / Destiny's Road / Lifehouse / Bolo Brigade

 

Only last August J. Gregory Keyes' first novel, The Waterborn, came out from Del Rey. It was, hands down, my favorite fantasy work of the year. Not that it had much competition, because I'm not a big fan of Fantasy, but for the same reasons I love Hard Science Fiction, I was enthralled by Keyes' story of heroes and gods drawn from his own studies as an anthropologist and his childhood among the Navajos. Reading Keyes is part fantasy, partly a course in cultural mythology. Both are extremely well done.

In April, The Blackgod, the second in Keyes' Children of the Changeling series, came out from Del Rey, continuing the story of Perkar, the cattle herder turned hero, and Hezhi, the princess who fled her powers to live among the Mang Horse warriors. In The Waterborn, Perkar discovered that heroes are not in control of destiny but it's tools. He also discovered that to be a hero is to watch your friends die all around you as gods prod you to their ends. Perkar is at once the powerful warrior, godsword in hand guiding thrusts and healing him from mortal wounds, the song of battle burning in his blood, and at the same time a powerless youth adrift in the face of the needs of gods that scheme to force him to their will.

Hezhi is a princess of the blood royal and magical. Keyes' world mixes god and human in the fashion of many human dynasties, and Hezhi is the latest in the ruling line descended from the Rivergod, the Changeling. In The Waterborn, Hezhi escaped her transformation into a vessel for the power of the Rivergod to keep her human form and freedom from the enslavement by the Priests who control the transformed. She also narrowly escaped Ghe, the assassin sent to slay her by the Priests by calling for a hero to save her...much to Perkar's dismay. Perkar kills the assassin at the conclusion of The Waterborn, freeing the princess from threat of the Priesthood, but not, as we discover in The Blackgod, ending the story.

Now, in The Blackgod, Ghe walks again as a ghoul, energized by the Rivergod, and determined to bring Hezhi back under the river's power. Though the humans in the Waterborn were often manipulated by gods, in the main they acted through their human powers. The Blackgod pits the gods against each other, and takes place on a battlefield full of the powers of gods in conflict. Hezhi becomes a powerful shaman and the story revolves around her entrapment by the Blackgod to go to the source of her power and kill the Rivergod. Hezhi goes to free herself of the Rivergod's design, while Perkar goes to find that which he lost the first time he met Gods; his honor, freedom from guilt, and freedom from the agenda's of gods.

Fantasy fails to engage me for the most part because it doesn't teach me anything new. When Keyes writes everything becomes new, showing me the roots of his fantasy in mythology. Keyes' Fantasy is not Celtic, but seems to be a blend of other world cultures from the steppes of central Asia to the pantheon of Greek gods. This almost glimpse into our own mythology makes me wish that he would write stories about the actual gods and humans that inspire him in the Changeling stories.

The Blackgod is wonderful. Keyes is as fresh a voice as Tolkien was in his time. Keyes brings a world of mythology to life, a world both new and familiar. If Joseph Campbell could write brilliant Fantasy, he might be Gregory Keyes. I keep hoping that everyone will discover him for themselves, while dreading the deluge of imitators that are bound to spring up as soon as they do. Buy it, read it, and tell your friends.

ContentsWyrm / Einstein's Bridge / The Blackgod / Destiny's Road / Lifehouse / Bolo Brigade

Spider Robinson is up to his old tricks. Lifehouse has Con artists, Con organizers, Time travelers both real and imagined and as if that wasn't enough - some really keen insights into life, the universe, The Beatles, Elvis and everything. Not since Fallen Angels have I had so much fun with Science Fiction Fandom without going to a con. Of course in Fallen Angels Science Fiction Fans only had to save two downed astronauts and resurrect the Space Program. Here the stakes are a bit higher.

When a naked man appears in a crash of sound and light on a Vancouver street asking what year it is, Wally and Moria, Science Fiction fans extraordinaire, know just what to do. Too bad it's the wrong thing. Now they have to get back the treasury for VanCon, or forever be shamed by their failure as true fans. When Paul and June, Con artists extraordinaire, find out that they have gotten on the wrong side of powerful forces that would baffle Scully and Mulder, they know just what to do also- but will Wally and June stop trying to get even long enough to listen? If not, it could ruin EVERYTHING.

Spider Robinson's characters are as engaging as ever, brilliant, likable and usually the kind of folks you'd like to know. Though sometimes it would be nice if they kept their hands in plain sight. If you know other fans of Science Fiction you will probably recognize the people in this book immediately, yourself included. If you don't, rush to the nearest Con and seek help! When the forces of Fandom rally, nothing is impossible. Wally and Moria find out that you can always get by with a little help from your friends.

Lifehouse is an intelligent, fast paced adventure that never lets the reader down with poor planning or execution and throws in a few memorable thoughts on the meaning of life and love while it's at it. One of his best.

Warning: This book may cause sleeplessness. At least until you finish it.

ContentsWyrm / Einstein's Bridge / The Blackgod / Destiny's Road / Lifehouse / Bolo Brigade

When Man settles the rim of the galaxy, he may prefer not to face the void between stars, especially if the Mercian hordes keep him busy from the galaxy's core. What he prefers may not count for much when the Malach descend with their battle cry of "Kill and Eat!" to strip the metal rich worlds in a fury of armored hunter packs. The first Bolos fall in less than a minute. If you've never read a Bolo novel, you can't imagine just how long a time that is for these Hellbore spitting, AI guided, atomic powered tanks, but it still bodes ill when there are hundreds of Malach and only a handful of Bolos. Now the next world in line is ripe for the picking, while it's conservative government waits in denial of the danger lurking between the stars.

The defense of the Strathan Cluster falls to a handful of antiquated Bolo tanks and one human Lt. who never could follow orders worth a damn. Obviously he's the perfect officer to send to Muir, a planet so bound by military paranoia that they have tied the positronic logic circuits of their Bolos into Gordian knots with Rules Of Engagement that shackle them as effectively as any manacle. If that doesn't stop them, the pacifist parties will...

LT. Rangor and two Bolo MK XXIVs, Freddy and Ferdy, are all that stands between the Malach and the conquest of Concordiat space beyond Muir. For a Brigade born to fight desperate odds, that just means they'll have to try a little harder.

Fans of Keith Laumer's Bolo Tank stories will be pleased with how well the author has captured the voice of the cybernetic juggernauts as they muse over the fury of battle and the failings of their human commanders. The tanks are plenty human for me, but the addition of a story of the redemption of Lt. Rangor and his growing attraction to the former Director General of Wide Sky, now shepherd to a city of refugee children, doesn't hurt either.

Bolo Brigade continues the tradition of the cybernetic juggernauts created by the late Keith Laumer by adding another grand adventure to the annals of the Dinachrome brigade.

ContentsWyrm / Einstein's Bridge / The Blackgod / Destiny's Road / Lifehouse / Bolo Brigade