Tag Archives: book review

Wendy Van Camp published in Far Horizons Magazine (Feb 2015)

Far Horizons Magazine Cover February 2015

I’m pleased to announce that a book review and three of my Scifaiku poems have published in the February 2015 issue of Far Horizons. The magazine is free to readers. I hope you’ll stop by and read not only my work, but the other fine stories to be found there.

Far Horizons: Tales of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror

Book Review: Glory Season

Book Name: Glory Season
Author: David Brin
First Published: 1993
Nominated: Hugo 1994 and Locus 1994

David Brin is an American scientist and writer of hard science fiction novels. His works have been New York Times Bestsellers and he has won multiple Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Campbell awards. Brin was born in Glendale, California. He graduated from the California Institute of Technology with a degree in astrophysics. He followed this with a master of science in applied physics and a doctorate of Philosophy in Space Science from the University of California, San Diego. He currently lives in Southern California with his wife and children.

“A living planet is a much more complex metaphor for deity than just a bigger father with a bigger fist.”
― David Brin, Glory Season

To understand the basis of the culture of Glory Season, you must go back three thousand years when a scientist named Lysos, the founder of the human colony on the planet of Stratos, used genetic engineering to change their local strain of humanity so that their reproduction was based on seasons. Men are sexually receptive in the summer and women are in the winter. When a woman conceives in the summer, she produces a mix of her own genes and that of the male, having an equal chance for a boy or girl child. When a woman conceives in the winter, she always produces a female clone of herself. Finally, the men of Stratos have been changed so that they are less aggressive during the times that they are less sexually receptive. The result is that most of the people of Stratos are successful group of women clones.

Into this feminist social backdrop, a pair of twins are born to a “hive” of clones called “Lamatia”. They specialize in commercial import/export banking. Maia and Leie are welcome to remain with the hive of their birth, like all variants born of the clone sisters, until they reach their majority. Then they will be thrust out into the world to survive as they will. The twins create a plan to pass themselves off as two members of a larger hive and hope to work as sailors on the seas of Stratos to make their fortunes. As “vars” (variants) they would be considered social inferiors, but as sisters of a “hive” they would lose the stigma.

Events prevent the two sisters from carrying off their plans. They are separated by the ship masters to work on different ships instead of remaining together. Leie is lost at sea and Maia, is injured while battling pirates. Maia leaves the sea and instead takes a job on a railroad while she tries to reconcile the loss of her sister and heal from her wounds. During this time, she becomes involved with a plot by “Perkinites” to eliminate men from an isolated valley and later the entire world of Stratos. Maia attempts to inform the planetary authorities and is put in prison by the Perkinites for her efforts.

Maia remains in prison a long time and discovers that her fellow prisoner is a male interstellar visitor from an untampered branch of humanity. This visitor is seeking a devise known as a “Jellicoe Former”, it is an advanced manufacturing facility that can act as a 3D printer for complicated, technological devises. On Stratos, a pastoral and low-technology society, the Former’s existence would be an eruption of new ideas that would change its stable society forever. Renna wants the machine in order to create items that would repair his spaceship and allow him to return home.

In the end, a climactic battle between political radicals, freed vars and a group of virtuous male sailors will determine the fate of the world and Maia’s personal destiny.

World building is an aspect of speculative fiction that sets it apart from more traditional genre. The author takes an idea of making an aspect of their world different from our own and uses it to explore new ideas of society and technology. To me, this is what sets great science fiction apart from the pretenders. David Brin is a master at this skill. Before he started his story in Glory Season, he had looked at the reproduction cycle of aphids; they reproduce clones of themselves during times of abundance and sexually reproduce during times of stressful environmental change. This gives them a reproductive advantage. Brin applied this concept to humans, using the pretext of genetic engineering to create humans who use this cyclic idea of reproduction, then applied the concept to their world and culture. What I found intriguing about his idea is that instead of making the clones part of a mechanical process, which is how traditionally cloning is displayed in science fiction, he made it a new biological process where sex and relationships took on new forms with his redesigned humanity. Since only women have wombs, they rise to predominance in his stable fictional society.

Glory Season Book CoverThe plot of Glory Season is decent, but not stellar. I still would recommend the book despite this. The culture that results from this new innate biologic process is alien in feel and yet retains enough humanity to allow the reader to feel sympathy for the characters and the problems that they face in the plot. It is worth exploring. My only real regret is that Glory Season is a stand alone novel. I would love a sequel so that I could return and see more of this unique and intriguing world.

Book Review: The Crystal Gryphon

Book Name: The Crystal Gryphon
Author: Andre Norton
First Published: 1972

Alice Mary Norton was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Her first writing experience began as editor of a literary page in the school’s paper called The Collinwood Spotlight. During this time, she wrote her first book, Ralestone Luck, which was eventually published as her second novel. She dreamed of becoming a teacher, but due to the Great Depression, she took a job working at the Cleveland Library System, in whose employ she remained for 18 years. She kept writing at this time and in 1934, she published her first novel. At this time she legally changed her name to Andre Alice Norton. Andre Norton is the pen name she adopted for marketing reasons. At this time boys were the main audience for fantasy tales and it was thought that they would not read stories written by a woman. Andre is a Norwegian male name, but obscure enough in the United States that had a more androgynous feel.

Andre Norton remained working for the Cleveland Public Library until 1950 when she retired due to her health. She took a job as a reader for publisher and editor Martin Greenberg at Gnome Press, a science fiction small press. She remained there for eight years until she shifted into becoming a full-time writer. At that point she had twenty one novels published. She would go on to write hundreds of novels, some of which are still being published today after her death in 2005 of congestive heart failure.

Her first science fiction novel was Star Man’s Son, 2250 A.D. published in 1952. She was a prolific novelist in the 50’s, many of her books selling in the juvenile market. She wrote over a dozen speculative fiction series, but her longest and most popular was the Witch World series, of which The Crystal Gryphon is a part of. Norton was nominated twice for the Hugo Award, for the novel Witch World in 1964 and for the novella Wizard’s World in 1967. She has been nominated three times for the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement and won the award in 1998.

Andre Norton was a founding member of the Swordsmen and Sorcerer’s Guild of America (SAGA). They were a group of fantasy authors led by Lin Carter and whose work appeared in her anthologies, Flashing Swords!. She was the only woman of the original eight members.

Known as the Grand Dame of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Andre Norton wrote novels for over 70 years. She has had a huge influence on the entire genre, having published well over 300 titles and having inspired at least four generations of science fiction and fantasy writers. Notable authors who cite her as an influence include, Greg Bear, C.J. Cherryh, Mercedes Lackey, A.C. Crispin, Charles de Lint, Joan D. Vinge and many others.

“Be yourself, not ruled by the belief that one man must be like another.” Andre Norton, The Crystal Gryphon. Neevor’s advice to Kerovan.

The Crystal Gryphon is the first book of the Gryphon Trilogy. It is one of the first fantasy romances and follows what is now a standard format, of writing the story via duo viewpoints, that of Lord Kerovan of Ulmsdale and his promised bride Lady Joisan of the Dales of High Hallack.

When Kerovan’s mother was to give birth, she was forced to shelter in the mysterious ruins of the Old Ones. Due to this, or perhaps the rumor that she had blood of the old race herself, her son was born with small cloven hooves instead of feet and his eyes were the color of butter amber. His father decides to name him heir despite his unusual features, and to prove his intentions, he “ax-weds” his ten year old son to an eight year old girl of good connections. Young Joisan remains with her family, to be sent for when she comes of age.

When Kerovan becomes a man, there is danger afoot as the Hounds of Alizon attack the mountains of High Hallack and Kerovan joins the Dale armies to represent Ulmsdale. Before he leaves, he sends Joisan a beautiful crystal gryphon encased in a globe, an object of power that he had found, almost as an after thought. Soon, Kerovan’s father dies and his mother rejects Kerovan’s claim to Ulmsdale, wishing to pass it on to her daughter and her new betrothed. Ulmsdale is betrayed to the enemy and falls, leaving Kerovan to depart and travel across the war-torn lands of High Hallack to Joisen’s Dale.

As she has grown, young Joisen learned how to wear armor and to fight with a light sword. She wears the tiny gryphon under her mail as a keepsake from her unknown fiance, a man she has never met in person. When Kerovan finds her, she mistakes him for one of the Old Ones due to his cloven feet and reserved manner.

The two set off into the wilderness as the Dales fall to the invaders, seeking the lands of the Old Ones and learning about the power of the gryphon and of each other. They hope to save their people from enslavement and destruction.

I confess that I have not read the entire Witch World saga, there are many books to the series and they interact in a way that can be confusing if you don’t know where the books fit. However, the two books in the series that I consider to be my favorites is the original Witch World and The Crystal Gryphon. The story about Kerovan and Joisen has stuck in my mind for decades. The romantic duo point of view of the writing that allows you to understand the characters emotions during their growing relationship created a chemistry that was hard to forget. Much of fantasy and science fiction during the time when this book was written was geared toward boys and therefore romance was an element that proved missing in many books and there were few female protagonists. Joisen, while still having an old-fashioned “stay by your man” outlook, was a strong female lead in her day. As a young girl reading this novel, that held a certain appeal to me. I consider Andre Norton to be one of my influnces in my own writing style. Most of my stories also have elements of romance and strong female characters. How else would I write after growing up reading Andre Norton?

The Crystal Gryphon is out of print, but you can find a kindle version on Amazon and used paperbacks. While this trilogy has become a little more obscure these days, it is one that I can recommend.

The Crystal Gryphon Book CoverThe Gryphon Trilogy is part of the High Hallack Cycle of the Witch World Series.

Gryphon Trilogy:

The Crystal Gryphon (1972)
Gryphon in Glory (1981)
Gryphon’s Eyrie (1984) with A. C. Crispin

Book Review: Nine Princes In Amber

Book Name: Nine Princes in Amber
Author: Roger Zelazny
First Published: 1970

Roger Zelazny was born in Euclid, Ohio, the son of of Polish immigrant. He had a typical childhood and showed an early interest in writing. In 1955 he earned a B.A. in English from Western Reserve University and went on to earn an M.A. in Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama from Columbia University in 1959. After graduation, he worked for the Social Security Administration by day and wrote science fiction by night. Zelazny wrote short stories at first, progressed to novellas and finally moved on to novel-length works. In 1969 he quit his day job and became a full time writer. Zelazny was an active member of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. He was also a member of the Swordsmen and Sorcerers’ Guild of America (SAGA), a group of heroic fantasy authors from the 1960s, much of their work was published in Lin Carter’s Flashing Swords! Anthologies.

Zelazny was married Sharon Steberl in 1964 and later they divorced. Two years later he married Judith Callahan. They had two sons and a daughter. The author died of cancer in 1995, at the age of 58.

While Zelazny is best known for his Chronicles of Amber series, of which Nine Princes in Amber is the first book, he has won 6 Hugo Awards, 3 Nebula Awards, 2 Locus Awards, 2 Seiun Awards, 2 Balrog Awards and 1 Prix Tour-Apollo Award. Many years, Zelazny’s work competed with each other for the same award.

In 2010, Roger Zelazny was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

“I like libraries. It makes me feel comfortable and secure to have walls of words, beautiful and wise, all around me. I always feel better when I can see that there is something to hold back the shadows.” -Roger Zelazy from Nine Princes in Amber

Nine Princes in Amber begins when Carl Corey wakes up in a hospital and has no idea how he arrived or even who he is. He is suspicious of the circumstances of his stay and escapes the room, only to learn that he is recovering from a car accident and his hospital care is being paid for by his sister.

When Carl flees the hospital, he goes to his sister’s house, wishing to learn more about his unknown identity. There he is called Corwin and his sister refers to herself as Flora. In Flora’s library, Corwin finds a set of customized Tarot cards, the trumps of the Major Arcana are all replaced with portraits of members of his family. There are nine brothers, including Corwin and four sisters. While at Flora’s house, his younger brother Random contacts him on the phone. When Random arrives, he is being chased by strange humanoid creatures, which are defeated in concert by Corwin, Flora and Random. Corwin realizes that strange forces are at work that have little to do with how he thinks Earth should be.

Random asks Corwin if he is going to return to Amber and offers to “hellride” with him there. As the two brothers travel, Random subtly shifts the world around him using an innate ability that fascinates his elder brother. They arrive in Amber, a place of sublime beauty and order from which the entire universe takes its form.

In Amber they meet with another of their brothers, Julian. They battle and Corwin manages to unhorse Julian from his steed and take him prisoner. Corwin is learning that the nine princes of Amber are all at battle because their father has been missing for centuries and is presumed dead. When one of Corwin’s sisters arrives, fleeing from yet another brother named Eric, Corwin is moved to confess to Deirdre about his amnesia. Deirdre tells Corwin of the Pattern, from where the power of the royal family to manipulate worlds springs from. It is Deirdre’s opinion that if Corwin “walks the pattern” again, it would restore his memory.

Corwin, Random and Deirdre leave Amber and travel to a nearby reflection world called Rebma. It is an underwater city and ruled by their sister Moire. Since Rebma is close to the original Amber, it also contains a near perfect reflection of the Pattern. Moire grants Corwin permission to walk the Pattern because she believes that the three of them will support her in the defeat of Eric, their brother who holds the royal castle in Amber and is amassing a huge army. There is a price: Random must stay behind in Rebma and marry a blind girl named Vialle. Corwin walks the Pattern and his memory is indeed restored. He is a true prince of Amber and remembers a long life of centuries along with the powers which the Pattern give him: the power to walk through “shadow” and to pronounce a curse before dying. Walking the Pattern also grants him the power to project himself through space and he does so, going to the Castle of Amber where he finds a safe location to rest and think about what he has learned.

In the castle, Corwin searches the library and finds another pack of Trumps, tarot like cards that allow him to create shortcuts through “shadow” and travel to other worlds. He now knows how to use them. Corwin is discovered by Eric and they duel. Corwin doesn’t fair well in the battle and he uses the Trumps to escape.

Corwin begins to use the Trumps to contact his siblings. He makes deals with the various princes of Amber, learning who is aligned with whom and gaining an understanding of where he stands in the royal intrigue. His car accident was no accident after all, but part of the intrigue for the throne of Amber. He joins forces with his brother Bleys and together they command a navy to take Amber from Eric. In the end, Corwin and Bleys are not successful. Bleys falls over a cliff and Corwin is captured and thrown in chains. Eric sentences his defeated brother to be imprisoned and his eyes burned out. Eric crowns himself King of the one true world.

Corwin endures years in prison, blind and helpless. Although he is visited by occasional friends, no one can help him due to their fear of King Eric. As time goes by, Corwin’s eyes begin to regenerate and he begins a futile escape attempt with the use of a spoon. It is during this time, that the former keeper of the Pattern, appears out of nowhere. Dworkin Barimen is insane and has been imprisoned for a long time. He explains that he has come to Corwin by drawing a picture on his own dungeon wall, creating a Trump to travel. Corwin asks Dworkin to draw a picture of the Lighthouse of Cabra, a place he considers a safe haven. Once Dworkin completes the drawing, Corwin projects himself out of prison.

Roger Zelazny has been one of my favorite science fiction and fantasy authors. Nine Princes in Amber was my introduction to his work, but it certainly wasn’t the last book of his that I read. One of the common themes of his writing is that there exists an infinite number of worlds and that every world that can be imagined must exist somewhere. The powerful characters in his books usually have the ability to travel to these different worlds in some manner. The idea that the characters are never sure if they are creating these special places or are simply finding them is the metaphysical question that they ask themselves and never quite answer.

Sometimes his stories are pure fantasy, and others they combine science fiction and fantasy together. Either way, a Zelazny novel was always something unique and wonderful to read. I highly recommend the Chronicles of Amber. The books might be a bit old, but they hold up well and are still an entertaining read.

Nine Princes in Amber Book Cover


The Chronicles of Amber:

The first five novels feature Corwin, Prince of Amber.

1970 Nine Princes in Amber
1972 The Guns of Avalon
1975 Sign of the Unicorn
1976 The Hand of Oberon
1978 The Courts of Chaos

The next five novels feature Merlin, Corwin’s son.

1985 Trumps of Doom – Locus Fantasy Award winner, 1986
1986 Blood of Amber – Locus Fantasy Award nominee, 1987
1987 Sign of Chaos – Locus Fantasy Award nominee, 1988
1989 Knight of Shadows
1991 Prince of Chaos

Zelazny also wrote seven short stories set in Amber. The last five of these stories form one tale set after Prince of Chaos, the final novel.

2005 “A Secret of Amber”
1985 “Prolog to Trumps of Doom”
1994 “The Salesman’s Tale”
1995 “Blue Horse, Dancing Mountains”
1994 “The Shroudling and The Guisel”
1995 “Coming to a Cord”
1996 “Hall of Mirrors”

Book Review: Dreamsnake

Book Name: Dreamsnake
Author: Vonda N. McIntyre
First Published: 1978
Awards: Hugo, Nebula, Locus

Vonda N. McIntyre was born in 1948 in Louisville, Kentucky. She moved around a great deal during her childhood finally settling in Seattle, Washington with her family. She earned a bachelor of science in biology at the University of Washington and graduated with honors. Before going on to graduate school, she attended the Clarion Writers Workshop in Clarion, Pennsylvania in 1970. This is a professional science fiction writer’s school. She went on to study genetics in graduate school and made the self discovery that a research scientist makes a wonderful background for a science fiction writer. She is a woman of many talents from riding horses in hunting, jumping, and three-phase events, earning a black-belt in Aikido, designing websites, partaking in public access television, crochet, and other handcrafts based on mathematical principals.

Ms. McIntyre became an ongoing instructor of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, now in its new locations on the West Coast, and has been a workshop writing instructor at various colleges and conventions. She belongs to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and several feminist organizations.

McIntyre has been writing since her early 20s. Her first novel, The Exile Waiting being published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1975. It was followed by her Nebula award winning novel Dreamsnake, based off her Analog short entitled Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand. At that point, the author turned to writing Star Trek novels for Paramount and landed the job of writing the novelizations of their hit movies: Star Trek II, III, and IV. She also wrote a fanfiction novel for Paramount entitled The Entropy Effect that was extremely popular with Star Trek fans.

“It’s a haunting, rich, and tender novel that explores the human side of science fiction in a manner that’s all too uncommon. The world it creates is vivid and fascinating, and Snake is a marvelously well realized character.” —Roger Zelazny

Dreamsnake follows the journey of a young female healer in a post dystopic world that has been reduced to the neolithic and yet has retained technology of a biologic nature. There is space flight and knowledge of other worlds, but access to this is curtailed.

Snake depends on three different types of serpents in order to be a successful healer, without one she is unable to perform her biological tech based medicine. Sand is the rattlesnake that has venom for vaccines and potions, Mist is a cobra with stronger venomous properties as Sand, and finally there’s Grass whose venom is used as a pain reliever and acts as a hallucinogenic drug similar to LSD. What makes Grass unique is that he’s a snake from another world without the ability to breed (as far as we know) and therefore his kind are very rare on Earth.

After having saved a young boy named Stavin from a village of people who fear snakes and therefore murder her precious dreamsnake, Snake is called upon to heal another patient is injured after a fall from her horse. Snake is hesitant to attempt to heal Jesse due to her lack of a dreamsnake, but her duty as a healer overrides her concerns. Jesse is grateful to Snake bids her to go to a place known as Central City where the otherworlders touch down. There she might find a replacement for Grass. Snake, Jesse and a companion set off for the city together.

Not long after the start of their journey, Jesse begins to sicken. The place that she fell off her horse was a radioactive crater and she has developed radiation poisoning. Snake is unable to cure her of this ailment. Before Jesses dies, she bequethes her horse Swift to Snake in the hope that the horse will be recognized by her people and Snake will be allowed access into the city despite Jesse’s absence.

Snake sets off to a place called the Oasis where she learns that her belongings have been destroyed and her precious journal has been stolen. This is where we are introduced to Arevin, the young desert dweller that has fallen in love with the young healer. Snake continues her travels and enters another town where she heals the governor and invites the governor’s son to her bed. This is where we learn about some of the strange sexual trainings and odd tribal practices – the governor’s son failed in a thing called biocontrol (a biological method of birth control that is based on training instead of drugs) and because of this the boy walks around covered in a cloak to hide his shame. Snake helps him to overcome his failing.

Snake then meets a child that has been abused and burned. Snake later adopts this little girl named Melissa. The crazy person that stole her journal, we never know the sex of the character as it is transgender, attacks and injures Snake leaving her to require several days of healing before she can travel to Central City.

Once she reaches the city, Snake is turned away from completing her quest and does not gain access to another dreamsnake. In the end, this doesn’t matter to Snake, who is disappointed by the result, but who realizes that she is self-sufficient as a healer and can continue to heal people without the third snake after all. She has traveled far and learned a great deal of new things. Things happen for a reason and those occurrences shape us into who we are. Dreamsnake comes full circle and the things that were once thought to be obstacles become opportunities.

There is some controversy about this classic science fiction novel. It is one of the first to explore transgender and to feature a woman protagonist that is female of outlook instead of a poorly disguised male character. At the time, the male dominated science fiction realm was scandalized by this. There are relationships in this book, but the sex is freely given and somewhat graphic in places. While the story is structured like a classic quest, the outcomes are subtle and are gained via understanding and teaching instead of via violence. As a teenage girl reading the book when it debuted, I admit that it rather blew my mind. At that age I could not put my finger on why the novel had such an impact on me both as a reader and as a writer, but now I see the threads of feminism and new ways for societies to live that were quite intriguing. The biological tech is very interesting and something that may become a reality via our genetic engineers in the not too distant future. McIntyre’s background as a biologist clearly shows in her writing.

Dreamsnake Book CoverDreamsnake is not in print, but you can purchase an ebook copy directly from the author. While the story is a little dated, it is a novel worth reading if you wish to learn more about classic science fiction.