Ted Nolan <tednolan>
2018-07-02 18:35:34 UTC
I reviewed the novella version of "The Weapon Shops Of Isher" here
a month or two ago. That story (also available at the site above)
was from 1949 while this one is from 1942. The events of the two stories
however take place more or less in parallel, and both are incorporated into
the "fixup" novel _The Weapon Shops Of Isher_.
This novelette is the story of Fara Clark, a small businessman
residing in the rural Isher village of Glay. A staunch conservative
and pillar of support for the Empress, he believes his settled life
is more or less as good as it gets, apart from the nagging problem
of his wastrel son Cayle. Taking an evening stroll downtown with
his wife, he reflects on how good life is just as his settled
existence is upended by the sudden appearance of a Weapons Shop on
a previously vacant lot.
Shaming the local mayor and constable, who seem inclined to let the
Imperial Guard deal with the Weapons Shops scofflaws, Fara forces a
confrontation that ends with himself inside the shop and "tainted"
(purposefully) by the Shop as a supporter, and suddenly his life hits
the skids. His son leaves home and runs up unsupportable debts, his
business is seized.. and Clark has his eyes opened to the realities of
Imperial power and Imperial corruption. In the end, seeing no option
but to kill himself to leave his wife clear he takes a fateful step
*back* into the Weapons Shop..
This is another winner in the Weapon Shops saga. It's a bit shorter
than "The Weapon Shops Of Isher", and moves right along. You can certainly
argue that the parallel society and reach of the Shops is not plausible, but
you're reading Van Vogt, so plausible always takes second seat to "wow!".
Reading this story after "The Weapon Shops Of Isher" is interesting.
It's apparent that van Vogt rethought several things in the the
seven years that separate the stories. Most noticeably, he decided
that Cayle Clark was not actually a wastrel, but a small town's
idea of a wastrel, and pretty much a better person than everyone
in the big city. Likewise he decided that the Empress, while
ruthless was not actually a bad person. I decided to see how this
was handled in the fixup novel (which I probably have several copies
of though I could only put my hands on an old Ace Double for this
comparison). I think the quote I gave in my review of "The Weapon
Shops Of Isher" shows the main shift in the characterization of
Cayle, but there are also adjustments in the debts he runs up and
these are back fixed into "The Weapon Shop" portions of the text.
Also, Fara is shown a secret video of the Empress ordering the
murder of one of her many ex-lovers (others of which she has had
killed as well) while in "The Weapon Shops Of Isher" we are given
the information that the Empress is a virgin and not too happy about
that. The backfix here is that Fara is shown her ordering the
murder of an advisor who has betrayed her. Ruthless, but not perhaps
despicable. (The fixup for the novel also mitigates her responsibility
for Fara's problems a bit by noting "The Empress is personally not
as responsible as might appear. Like you, she is, to some extent,
adrift on the tide of our civilization"). Really, I think the
novel fixups work very well here.
Dionna's Warrior: A Reverse Harem Romance (Dragon Origins Book 1)
by Ruby Ryan
Dionna's Mage: A Reverse Harem Romance (Dragon Origins Book 2)
by Ruby Ryan
After getting sucked into reading a fairly bad reverse harerm
pentology, I was going to give RH series I was not actively following
a rest for a while, but this one had maps.
Anyway, Dionna is what amounts to a college student in a fantasy
world where magic works, and is fairly strictly classified. There
are Warriors who are basically "tanks", Rangers who work with bows
and distance weapons, Tinkers who are steampunk "sparks", Shadows
who can essentially short-range teleport, or telewalk maybe, and
strike enemies from any side, Pyromancers who control several
manifestations of fire including fireballs and firewalls and Frost
Mages who do similar things with ice and cold. (I might have the
names slightly wrong, this is from memory).
Dionna is a Pyromancer, and she considers herself an average one, both
in strength and ability. She knows she's not good enough to be assigned
to a Dragon Quintelaide, but figures that if she can pass tomorrow's final
exam (which will be a live exercise of some sort; nobody knows in advance)
she will have a reasonably good life in service to the Archonate, certainly
better than she expected growing up in her small village.
Having studied and practised to the point of diminishing returns, she
feels the need to blow off some steam, and meets her lover on the academy
rooftop for what may be their final tryst. (They will likely be sent
separate ways after graduation). Steam having been blown off very
satisfactorily, the pair are relaxing when they see something on the
roof that very much should not be there: Slithiks. The Archonate's
shaky truce with the variously formed insectoids is apparently over,
with the Slithiks now appearing in the heart of the Achonate (and more
importantly, at the wellspring of the Archonate's magical army corps).
Raising the alarm, the two students give battle, but things go badly
and most of the student body is lost as is Dionna's lover. Dionna
survives only due to the efforts of the Quintelaide stationed at
the Academy (a posting they had considered basically an insult to
their abilities) though the battle costs them their Pyromancer.
Retiring to the capital, the Quint is shocked that they will not be
allowed to take their Honor March (basically a doomed charge into
enemy territory) as for some reason they are in the Archon's bad book
(and may have been for a while without realizing it). Instead, they
will be required to redo the Quint bonding ritual with a new Pyromancer
to see if that will stave off the madness that universally falls on Quint
members when one (or more) of their number is lost.
Unsurprisingly, since we know who the hero of the series is, and because
the Archon really wants it to fail, he assigns them a totally green and
not even formally graduated Pyromancer to make the effort with. And to
complicate things more, as happens with some (but not all) Quints,
the dead (female) pyromancer had been a lover (with varying degrees of
intensity) to all the five male members of the Quint. (Yes they know
that having 6 people in a quint sounds funny. It's historical).
Average pyromancer: Hello Quint. Hello Reverse Harem.
These books were fairly good. I like the fact that they have a storyline
and an adversary that could work without the RH aspects. I also like
that Dionna is not a blushing virgin and that the men, working with varying
degrees of grief, don't take to her immediately. I think the alternating
first person viewpoints are a bit awkward, but probably in a story of this
sort better than a uniform third person point of view. Dionna could use
a bit less "gee, shucks, I'm so average!", but she does tone it down a bit
as she actually gains some experience in book two.
Worlds For The Taking
by Kenneth Bulmer
I know Kenneth Bulmer mainly through his Dray Prescott novels, which
are favorites of mine and first person Edgar Rice Burroughs-ish
adventures of a sailor from Nelson's navy transported to a remote
and exotic planet. Aside from that, I had read several (or perhaps
all) of his "Adventures In Dimension" books. Somewhere in reading
*about* the Dray Prescott books, I thought I saw an interview where
Bulmer stated that the ideas behind those books were first put forth
in this book, _Worlds For the Taking_. Well perhaps I remembered
wrongly because mostly I don't see it, though I will say a bit about
that at the end.
_Worlds For The Taking opens on the bucolic planet of Jethro(*) where
the natives, all good Terran stock, are up in arms that their planet,
where they have been settled for twenty years, and where the first character
we meet was born, is to be ripped from the local sun and re-orbited around
one of the home suns.
As it happens, the villain in this scenario, Gerban Arnouf of the Solterran
Construction Service, has just received an unexpected visitor in the system,
his SCS rival, Stephan Christopher Strang, who has dropped by on his way
to another assignment to make a courtesy/gloat call announcing his promotion
over Arnouf. Puzzled by what he sees going on, Strang finds that the
Jethro settlers have a valid prior claim and enjoins Arnouf from moving
the planet. Satisfied at having done a good deed and having got his gloat
in, Strang moves on -- at which point Arnouf nonetheless moves the planet.
Arriving back home, and finding himself overruled (and with Arnouf's
specious reasoning supported by the big boss), Strang sets out to
order things so this never happens to him again and sets in train
a "Citizen Kane" type storyline that sees him transformed from a
good hearted, if ambitious, family man, into a back-stabbing climber
who throws away family and friendship in the service of ambition.
Along the way, we see vignettes of his fall, and scenes from the
Terran Survey Corps (now overshadowed by the SCS) reluctantly
fighting battles on the frontier all the time dreading the long
expected arrival of "sharks": really alien aliens. (Although that
never quite happens).
I can't deny that the big idea here really is a big idea: Moving
planets around and setting them in goldilocks orbits around Sol and
other nearby stars like electrons in the old Bohr model, but the
story supporting it was rather lacking. None of the main characters
were really pleasant; even the Jethro native whom we were inclined
to sympathize with becomes a terrorist, despite knowing that (however
Kane-like he had become) the initial forced removal was not Strang's
Additionally, the writing was just bad. I admit this surprised me
as Bulmer had been writing professionally for more than ten years
at this point (1966), and I remember his third person books as
having a simple, unobtrusive style while his first person Prescott
books (of which I have read several fairly recently) are genial and
engaging. Perhaps Bulmer was trying to mix things up a bit with a
swinging London mid-sixties vibe (we got some information on sexual
mores that wouldn't have flown in Golden Age SF), but if so it
Nice. Very nice. Astonishingly young, too, She couldn't be
above forty. Her figure fitted firm and obtrusively into a
sheath laminated from silver and gold; her cosmetic robots
must have been programmed with consummate artistry. They
had decided on the naive look. She looked like a virgin on
a pagan altar-and she made every man subconsciously wish
to rush in and strike the curved knife from the palsied
hand of the wicked priest.
Yep, I was thinking that about a girl just the other day..
Flames gouted all over the camp area. Bushes burned. Matlin
saw one of the radios take a bullet in its guts and spray
transistors and printed circuits outwards like a gay rocket
at a corpse-meet.
What does that even *mean*?
As to the idea that the background of this book contains the seeds of
Dray Prescott, the only thing I can see, since planet moving doesn't
enter into that series at all, is the idea that space (at least all
the explored space near Terra) seems to have been seeded with "sexually
compatible" humanoids. (Though here we don't see anything as divergent
as some of the "diffs" of Kregan).
(*) To Americans, "Jethro" suggests bucolic because of "The Beverly
Hillbillies" which had been running for several years when this
book appeared, though I don't know if it was re-broadcast in England.
Perhaps Bulmer meant for the association with farming to go through
Jethro Tull, or perhaps he just thought it was a rural sounding
Change of Regime: An Athanate novella
by Mark Henwick
Hewick says he composed this story as a writing exercise to get
some practice with the third person and multiple points of view.
I think he did pretty well, though I don't find it as compelling
as his first person mainline Athanate books. Basically this and
future stories in this setting are about the Athanate community on
Long Island, which has lived an unconventional and hidden existence,
unknown by the larger Athanate factions. Now with the coming
Emergence (the main driver of the Athanate series), that has to
change, and the Long Island community has to either come under, and
make peace with, the American Mantle of the ancient leader (and
Emergence proponent) Skylar, leave, or be exterminated. Along with
all the conflicted and confused Athanate, the story also throws in
a (dying) human woman who had been tasked by the NSA with deciphering
communications in an unknown language which were starting to turn
up in government data captures.
As usual, Henwick treads the line of making the Athanate (and all
it's factions) understandable and largely sympathetic while keeping
it just a little disturbing as well. They are not quite human, and
will never be human and they and the rest of us will somehow have
to make peace with that.
Neogenesis (Liaden Universe Book 21)
by Sharon Lee, Steve Miller
Some books in the Liaden Universe have reasonably compact plots;
others draw in characters from seemingly dozens of ongoing threads.
This book is one of the later sort where we finally get resolutions
on the ongoing storylines of Mentor Tolly Jones trying to socialize
the new AI Admiral Bunter, the Uncle's rescue/captivity of D'aav
and Aelliana, the apotheosis of Ren Zel, the legal status of Theo
and Bechimo and the now possibly final action in the great pre-Migration
This book is definitely not the place to start reading Liaden stories,
but if you have been following them all, you will enjoy spending the
time with old friends.
A few SPOILERS follow:
I will say that some of the threads played out oddly this time. In
particular, I thought the events around Tinsori Light were less
than satisfying: Mentor Yo's death was unexpected and disappointing;
the Uncle, after all his preparation, played no role; I had really
thought Mentor Jones could save the Light and the outcome for Tocohl
(who was both personally mobile and a pilot) was very sad.
By Fire Above: A Signal Airship Novel
by Robyn Bennis
At the conclusion of book one of this flintlock-punk/steam-punk
series, _The Guns Above_, airship captain Josette Dupre saw her
hometown Durum fall to an unexpected (by the extremely lackluster
Garnian military leadership) second front in the war with Vin.
Having led a scorched earth fighting retreat from the air, Dupre
has once again brought herself unfavorably to the attention of the
military higher-ups, while becoming something of a darling to the
Now assigned to a fly-the-flag tour of the Capital, and having her
airship rendered almost into scrap by yet another echelons-above
screwup during a simple flyover, Dupre accepts the invitation of
her impoverished noble friend and super-cargo Bernie's older (and
nowise impoverished) brother to spend her airship's downtime in the
palace where she can politic for the supplies she needs, and maybe
influence a key noble to remember Durum in the terms of the, seen
as inevitable, upcoming peace treaty. It doesn't hurt that she
finds the brother quite attractive very much to Bernie's sibling
horror. (Though he has no room to talk as he has been romancing
Things go South as they usually do when Dupre tries to interact
with High Society, but once again, the King unexpectedly takes an
interest in Dupre (and it is now clear he is playing some kind of
game against his more inept nobility) and tells her if she wants
to do something for Durum, to fly up, infiltrate the town and get
the gates open for the ragtag and untrained draftee units being
raised from the capital's universities.
Flying off in a mostly repaired (but still filled with deadly
hydrogen rather than the incredibly expensive helium) airship, Dupre
and Bernie meet up with Dupre's mostly estranged mother who is one
of the key Resistance figures in Durum, but things aren't quite as
they seem, and everything that can go wrong with the conceptually
simple mission starts to..
This is another very entertaining book by Bennis, full of action,
humor and wryly observed life. I said last time that you could
think of the series as Drake's Leary & Mundy books but with Mundy
in command. I think that's still somewhat true, but a bit less so
now that Dupre has started to get a love life and lighten up a bit.
I do wish that Bennis would give us a little more reason to cheer
for Garnia rather than the very modern "they're both awful" viewpoint,
but perhaps things are in motion on that front.
What's not in Columbia anymore..