October Book Reviews

Where Is My Flying Car? By J. Storrs Hall
It’s rare enough for me to change my mind that it’s worth noting when it happens. I’ve tackled the “Where’s my flying car?” question many times both online and on panels. I’ve pointed out that there have been prototypes built, and they’d failed commercially, because what you need to make one a better car (bigger tires, stronger structure) makes it a worse plane, and vice versa.

Hall addressed that objection directly, looking at the tradeoffs and doing the math to show that there’s a sweet spot where a flying car serves a commute better than owning a Cessna and a sports car. He convinced me there is a good market for them—if government regulations hadn’t made it impossible to sell them, the same way Cessnas and other light aircraft were crushed.

Nuclear power is something I think we need more of. Hall pointed out some interesting capabilities with underutilized options. The existing power plants are too constrained by being descended from designs intended to breed fissionables for weapons, and government restrictions on developing anything new. There’s a lot of possibilities out there.

I wasn’t convinced by everything in the book, but it’s a damn good argument that there’s still some more low-hanging fruit on the technology tree, and the “Great Stagnation” is due to an unwillingness to experiment. Recommended for people interested in technology, government policy, or near-future world-building.

All Things Huge and Hideous by G. Scott Huggins
This is a light fantasy in a dark setting. The Evil Overlord won, all the world is oppressed, and a veterinarian has to keep the various animals alive. Protective gear takes on extra levels when treating a pet basilisk.
It’s an episodic story (not a complaint, a description) following various cases as Our Hero and his plucky assistant try to save patients despite vampire owners, the evil bureaucracy, and magical rivals. A fun read.
(Full disclosure: I received a free copy in a Twitter contest, but I’d previously paid for one of the included short stories.)

Hazardous Imaginings by Andrew Fox
Andrew Fox isn’t afraid to write about taboo subjects. His story collection is the first fiction I’ve read from him. It has stories involving the Rapture, Holocaust denial, social disintegration, and politically-correct censorship. This is not a “fun read”—in fact I took a break between stories to read something lighter. I don’t want to get into details of the stories because I can’t describe the important aspects without spoiling the hell out of the them. But if you want some damn good stories that make you think about what the world could be, this is a book for you.
(Full disclosure: I have a story in Fox’s upcoming anthology.)

Masquerade in Lodi by Lois McMaster Bujold
One of the impacts of the ebook revolution that is still being worked out is the freedom authors now have to freely choose the topic and length of their stories. Paper books have to be long enough to justify a price that covers all the overhead from the publishing house and distribution chain. I have “novels” that came out in the 50s that are a tenth the length of usual modern doorstopper.

SF Grandmaster Lois McMaster Bujold has been exploring these possibilities with her Penric stories. They could be considered a prequel to her novel The Curse of Chalion, as they’re in the same setting hundreds of years earlier. But there are no characters in common and no connection to the plot of the other stories.

The Penric stories are short, not tackling epic conflicts or inserting subplots to pad them up to an editor’s demands. Bujold is writing them as the Muse moves her, not structuring the plot to produce a series that can claim shelf space in competition with GRRM et al. The latest, “Masquerade in Lodi,” is inserted into the Penric series as number four of nine, an act which would give a traditional publishing editor spasms.

Is it good? Oh, yes. But I’d already said “Bujold.” If you’re not familiar with the series I’d recommend starting with The Curse of Chalion, a wonderful tale of treachery, loyalty, and love.

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