Nobody Gets the Girl

Author: James Maxey
Genre: Science Fiction
Reviewed by: Tripp Reade

NobodygetsUp front, a caveat about this review: the author, James Maxey, and I are acquainted in the virtual sense, having critiqued one another's stories at an online workshop. His short story was a knockout, and it will be a fortunate day when we're all able to read it in some future collection. Cross your fingers that the day comes sooner rather than later.

Okay. Ethically purified, I can proceed. If, like me, you've come to associate hard science fiction with desiccated prose and corrugated characters, Maxey's book will confound that association. Yes, there is hard science here, at least by my reckoning -- vacuum bombs and time travel and terraforming, oh my -- but it's far from dry, parceled out as it is in small doses and leavened with humor. Here's an example of how he does it. Nominal bad guy Rex Monday is explaining the finer points of his "space machine" to our protagonist, Richard Rogers:


"My machine exploits the fractal math that underlies the fabric of space, allowing the spontaneous transposition of points along a curve. I built it out of a pocket calculator and a microwave oven." (204)

See? This is sufficient to tickle the intellect without making the eyes glaze over and the story bog down. In fact, the only thing dry about this book is Rogers' wit, which is liberally employed throughout these pages as he attempts to maintain his sanity. I could tell you why, but that would spoil one of the dozen or so delicious plot twists Maxey serves up. Let's just say Rogers has a serious case of sporadic reality and leave it at that for now.

God, the plot twists. Some involve identity, some involve romance, some involve life and death for certain characters -- no one is safe in this novel. These twists are whiplash tight and yet rock solid ; at no time will you think Maxey is cheating. Rather, you'll have an almost constant silly grin on your face as he pulls one fabulous trick after another out of his hat. The only problem with them is that they get in the way of writing this review: there are so many, and I refuse to give any of them away, which leaves me in an unfortunate position. I guess I could talk about the typeface, or the cover art, which is of the bona fide comic book variety.

Oh yeah, did I mention that this is subtitled "A Comic Book Novel"? Does that scare you? Do you have visions of inane dialogue and gratuitous violence? Again, relax. Like the best comic books, this takes genre conventions and makes them sing: the super-villain bent on world destruction, his semi-competent henchpersons (Sundancer, Pit Geek, Baby Gun, and the Panic), the super-genius good guy who is nevertheless emotionally stunted, the beautiful uber-babes (Rail Blade and the Thrill, who are more than the sum of their fetching curves), they're all here. One by one Maxey turns them inside out, even while serving up some way cool biff bang pow -- check out the big smackdown scene -- as he makes you believe in these new laws of physics he's conjuring.

The internal logic of this story is nothing short of remarkable. He's dealing with some concepts here that can be lethally Draconian to the careless writer: time travel, the theory of infinite worlds, the nature of ghosts and how they interact with the corporeal world. This is Maxey's amazing high-wire act, that he makes it look easy, that he takes these unforgiving ideas and juggles them with all the skill of a Cirque du Soleil performer. And when you see the use to which he puts Schrodinger's cat, you might, as I did, cackle with glee, startling whomever happens to be in the vicinity. Bravura stuff.

Woven through this epic struggle between Rex Monday and Dr. Know, the putative good guy super-brain, are strands that deal with the nature of reality and free will versus determinism, but always handled with a light touch. Maxey's skill at plotting and his bantering dialogue function as the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine of such weighty themes go down with nary a grimace. In fact, you'll probably ask for more.

In the end, I can only quibble with one aspect of this book. In his dedication, Maxey indicates he'd bet on the Hulk in a tussle with Norse strongman, the mighty Thor. James, if you're reading this, I disagree, having always put my money on goldilocks. Other than that, bring on the next book!

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January 23, 2005 in Science Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Pacific

Author: G. Miki Hayden
Genre: Science Fiction
Reviewed by Kevin Tipple

"A society that depended on companies for its daily sustenance could not mandate restrictions in those companies." (Page 28)
12010401Years ago, when I was a teenager and thought I knew it all, a certain domestic car company produced a car that they knew would detonate and kill passengers when struck from behind during an accident. That a certain number of people would die was considered acceptable by this company as a cost of doing business. Such a concept is the theme behind this highly disturbing, yet very enjoyable novel penned by G. Miki Hayden.

In this not too distant future, the NEW WORLD ORDER has actually come to pass. Along with the effects of a steadily increasing population and global warming, large monolithic corporations have completely replaced governments. National boundaries and interests no longer exist, and instead, corporations ensure peace and stability worldwide while taking care of all. Those that die, beyond those that die from natural aging, do so due to accidental technology glitches and the survivors are well paid. The world is a controlled safe place but dissent and freedom still simmer in mankind.

For Tanizaki Takashi, those issues do not exist, as he is a small part of the huge corporation known as Moritomo, and he is acutely aware of his place in it. Summoned to Singapore by his supervisor, Najita, he goes and follows rigid protocol. His role is what it is and Najita reminds him of that repeatedly before assigning him the task of finding a missing scientist, Dr. Sato. Dr. Sato has created a living weapon system that could be targeted to a number of variables, including a person's age, gender, race, etc. Dr. Sato may have taken a part of it with him and they want their property, both Dr. Sato and his weapon system, returned to them.

Takashi begins the hunt, which will lead him to the Moon and Moritomo's lunar colony. In so doing and while coming to terms with the realization that he is an expendable pawn in a high stakes power game, he begins to question his own life and reason for existence. When the pawn becomes self aware, it ceases to be a pawn and becomes something more.

Filled with social commentary about a world that may be coming, this intriguing science fiction mystery presents a dark tale that does not seem that far fetched at all. As the book moves forward, the levels of corporate deception become more complex as do the possibilities for escape. Ripped from his place in the world where he had become all too complacent, Takashi looks deeply into the abyss in search of himself. The question becomes: can he survive long enough to find the answers he seeks?

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December 1, 2004 in Science Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cosmic Tales: Adventures in Sol System

Author: T.K.F. Weisskopf
Genre: Sci-fi
Reviewed by Tom Feller

10090403I recently attended a talk given by Dr. Jerry Pournelle, the science fiction and popular science writer. He told us about attending a conference on colonizing the moon in which the then head of NASA made the comment that he could not imagine how anyone would want to live on the moon. Pournelle said he felt like a provincial bishop who went to Rome and discovered that the Pope was an atheist. The editor and contributors to this original anthology are on Pournelle's side. In these stories and articles, they imagine what it would be like to live and work in the Solar System.

The contributors are a mix of science fiction writers who were both familiar and not familiar to me. I have read novels by Charles Sheffield, James Hogan, Jack McDevitt, Allen Steele, John Ringo, and Gregory Benford. The ones not already familiar to me were Travis Taylor, Margaret Ball, Wen Spencer, Rebecca Lickiss, and Paul Chafe. In addition to their stories, Taylor and Chafe contributed articles explaining the science behind their fiction.

Some of the stories are parts of a series. "McAndrew and THE LAW", which would be significant if only because Charles Sheffield finished it shortly before his death last year, features a character, Arthur Morton McAndrew, whom Sheffield used in many stories and considered his alter ego. A physicist, Sheffield's fiction was solidly grounded in contemporary science. "Jailhouse Rock" by James Hogan features a character he created for a series inspired by "The Saint", created by Leslie Charteris. It takes place on a future Mars that is the site of a thriving colony. Allen Steele's "High Roller" is part of his "Near Space" future history, and the setting is a casino located on the Moon.

The funniest and shortest story is "Moon Monkeys" by Wen Spencer. It concerns the attempts to import monkeys into a moon colony. The story that affected me the most was "Windows" by Jack McDevitt. It takes place entirely on Earth, but in a future in which humanity has completely withdrawn from space. "Time in Purgatory" by Rebecca Lickiss is a western transplanted to the Kuiper Belt, the region of space between Neptune's orbit and true interstellar space, and the main character is the female sheriff of a space station.

On the other hand, "Earth's First Improved Chimp Gets a Job as a Janitor" by John Ringo really does not fit the theme, although it is a good story. The two main characters are a human being and a chimpanzee. Both of them have been genetically engineered, making them social misfits, and they become friends. My only objection to its inclusion is that it has nothing to do with the future of space exploration and colonization. The only story I actually disliked was Gregory Benford's "Blood's a Rover", which I found unreadable. This surprised me, because I've liked his work in the past. It is an excerpt from a forthcoming novel that I'll remember to avoid.

However, it is rare that I like all stories in any anthology, so I feel I can recommend this book. Most of the stories are enjoyable, and the reader may actually learn something.

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October 28, 2004 in Science Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Night Orchid: Conan Doyle In Toulouse

Author: Jean-Claude Dunyach
Genre: Sci-fi
Reviewed by Kevin R. Tipple

10090404In this collection of stories by Jean-Claude Dunyach, imagination full of hopeful wonder is the key. The 14 stories in this 279-page book, all science fiction, are driven by imagination powered by hopeful wonder. This is science fiction in its truest form where the possibilities are endless and the vision, or the visions in this case, of the future are not negative and involving the downfall of civilization. Instead, anything that can be dreamed is the limit and even those boundaries known to man are blown away by the concept of wonder and imagination allowed to flow free across time and space.

It simply isn't possible to cover every story in depth. I have chosen three, that for this reader, really made an impression on my mind. This is one of those books that means massively different things to different readers so your favorites would vary. And I suspect, years from now when I read this book again, my selections would change as well. That is the mark of truly great literature.

"Time, as it evaporates" (Page 91) opens with a city where time as if it were a lake, floats above. The level is slowly receding and compressing downward on the citizens of the town. The city has survived the rip in time until now, but the pool is diminishing and their days are numbered with no escape. Or is there?

"Watch Me When I Sleep" (Page 152) on its simplest level, is about a young boy who, while he slept, accidentally swallowed a fairy. This story was included in the "2002 Year's Best Fantasy and Horror" for good reasons.

"Footprints In The Snow" (Page 185) details a group that makes an annual pilgrimage high above the tundra line in the mountains. As their numbers slowly shrink every year, they keep faith with their purpose.

While those are just three examples of the work in this book, there is a stunning variation in subject matter, perspective, and vision of the future. Each story, written in the Jules Verne style by a modern author, shows incredible use of imagination and hope. These are not the downer cataclysmic end of the world type stories so often found today masquerading as science fiction. This is how science fiction used to be.

This book, courtesy of Black Coat Press, is another wonderful example of a publisher crossing continents to bring little known authors, at least in America, to a new audience. Owned and operated by Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier, Black Coat Press books seem to always be quality novels worth reading over and over again. Whether the book is from the Doctor Omega series (sure to interest fans of Dr. Who), the Holmes vs. Lupine series, or this book, the stories are complex with interesting and varied characters. Additionally, the cover art and illustrations as well as the books themselves in terms of the printing process are always top notch.

This book in particular is a definite must read for science fiction fans hungry for a read where wonder and the imagination are still acceptable. Not everything has to be a doom and gloom future and it is nice once again to read a work that sees the positives.

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October 28, 2004 in Science Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

3 x T

Author: Harry Turtledove
Genre: Sci-fi
Reviewed by Tom Feller

10090405The old Star Trek and Doctor Who TV shows both used the plot device of a law against a technologically advanced civilization interfering in the development of a less advanced one. The conflict between this law and the perceived need to interfere drove the plots of many episodes. The difference was that Captain Kirk always managed to find loopholes in the law, whereas the Doctor simply ignored it when he saw fit and paid the price when the Time Lords finally caught up with him.

The civilization in "Noninterference", the first of two short novels in this collection of stories originally published from 1984 to 1991, also has a law against interference. Naturally, someone violates it. However, Turtledove focuses on the long term consequences of the interference, which those old TV programs rarely examined. Furthermore, there is an attempt to cover up the crime. As any student of political scandals from Watergate to Monica Lewinsky can tell you, the cover-up can cause more problems than the original crime, and that is the case in this story as well.

The second novel is "Earthgrip", which itself consists of three novellas featuring Jennifer Logan. She is a scholar specializing in an obscure branch of literature called 20th Century Science Fiction. Logan applies what she learns from these stories in "real world" situations 1,000 years in the future.

The remainder of this collection consists of thirteen short stories. Although Turtledove is best known for his alternate histories, only two of the stories are in that sub-genre. "And so to Bed" is written in the style of Samuel Pepys and is part of the Sims series in which Turtledove postulates that native Americans never migrated across the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska. Instead, North America is populated with a sub-human species called the "Sims". In "The Last Article", Turtledove imagines what would have happened if Gandhi had met the Nazis.

The others can be classified as fantasy, horror, or science fiction with the exception of "The Girl Who Took Lessons". This rare attempt by Turtledove at mainstream fiction satirizes the concept of self-improvement. Turtledove also rarely attempts horror, but "Crybaby", a story about a demonic baby, and "Gentlemen of the Shade", in which a group of vampires meet Jack the Ripper, show he could work in this genre if he so desired.

The cover illustration was inspired by "The Road Not Taken". The premise of the story is that technological progress is not linear. In other words, it is quite possible for a civilization to be highly advanced in one field and relatively primitive in another, which a group of invading aliens finds out to their misfortune. I especially liked the image of a chamber pot on board a starship. "Hindsight" imagines what would happen if a female science fiction writer traveled back in time to 1953 and used her knowledge of the future to write cautionary tales about Vietnam and Watergate.

In conclusion, I can recommend this book without reservations. There is not a bad story in the collection, and they show off Turtledove's versatility.

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October 28, 2004 in Science Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Speed of Dark

Author: Elizabeth Moon
Genre: Sci-fi
Reviewed by Liz Burton

10100401I’m still trying to decide how I feel about this book. Not what I think about it—that’s different. Objectively, this is a superbly written novel that opens up a world most people cannot even begin to comprehend, and does it in a way that never asks for demeaning sympathy for its protagonist. This is as it should be—most disabled people will tell you if they want sympathy they can find it in the dictionary between “shit” and “syphilis.” In this book, it’s the “normal” people one is inclined to feel sorry for, wrapped in their smug complacency in their own normality that defines anything other as “less than.”

No, where my quandary lies is deciding whether I’m pleased that Lou Arrendale achieved his long-held dream or deep sadness that, on the way, he lost the humanity that was so much a part of who he was. Is it just because I’ve lived with a disability most of my life that I sense a cold irony in the image of an autist, who allegedly has trouble relating to others, changed by a treatment intended to make him normal into someone whose distance from those others is no longer cognitive but intellectual. I am left with a feeling of discomfort that may be nothing more than my subjective response to a story that strikes a little too close.

Lou Arrendale gains his dream of traveling into space, but in the process he loses love and friendship. There is no indication as he speeds through the vacuum that he has replaced Tom and Lucia and Dale and Chuy—and Marjory—with other people. He seems to have sacrificed those fragile relationships for intellectual adventure, and I find that horrifically disturbing.

In the early days after the development of cochlear implants, they were touted far and wide as salvation for the deaf, the magic that would allow them to be just like everybody else. A segment of the deaf community raged loudly, rightly condemning this attitude as just another instance of “normal” people insisting they were the standard— and that anyone who, in their definition, fell short of that standard must be desperate to change whatever prevented them from meeting it. Not so, they said. There is, in fact, a fully functioning community of the deaf who cherish their “otherness,” and who condemned the eagerness of the hearing to “fix” them offensive.

There is, I think, a clear element of this in The Speed of Dark. It seemed to me that, by making Lou “normal,” the researchers erased the one thing that made him human—his unacknowledged intimate connection with those who made up his community. That the decision to undergo that treatment was his choice doesn’t negate the point that he was, in the end, no more real to them than the chimps that preceded him. As long as he fit their definition at the end of the treatment, they had succeeded; and as long as he could attain his dream, Lou was content.

But contentment isn’t the same as being fully alive.

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October 28, 2004 in Science Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Beyond the Mundane: Flights of Mind

Author: Daniel J. Reitz
Genre: Sci-fi/Fantasy
Reviewed by Kim Richards

Flights of Mind is part of the Beyond the Mundane series by Mundania Press. Stories in this anthology are mainly science fiction and fantasy oriented, with a sprinkling of horror.

The twenty-nine stories making up this nice little anthology cover varying subjects such as: dragons, magical shops, gargoyles and psychic warriors, prophets and nasty sorceresses. There are two tales regarding the choosing of destiny. If you like wolf spirits, mysterious strangers, and speculative retribution, you'll like this book

The large number of stories makes the price definitely worthwhile. It makes discussing each tale here impossible, though I wish I could. As with all anthologies, there are some great stories included and one or two you wished the editor would've passed on. For some odd reason, I found the science fiction stories frequently drew me in, perhaps a reflection of the editor's tastes. These are my favorites:

Hunters, by Loren W. Cooper, is one of several stories involving the same set of fantasy characters. This one deals with the hunting of vampires.

Butterflies, by S. Joan Popek, gives us a taste of what it's like to be the insects someone else collects.

Survival Instinct, by Elaine Corvidae, shows us a simple world upon which a woman soldier crashes.

All the Fires of Home, by Loren W. Cooper, wonderfully describes a future through the eyes of an Earth-born gladiator.

Storyteller's Thanksgiving, by Linda Bleser, gives a touch of humanity to the non-human. A very charming story.

Drink My Soul...Please, by Rie Sheridan, blends the horrors of war and the horrors of its aftermath nicely.

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October 28, 2004 in Science Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Phoenix

Author: Ken Rand
Genre: Science Fiction
Reviewed by Tom Feller

548It must be hard to write a book like The Sands of Kalahari these days, because the author has to establish why the characters can't just whip out a mobile phone and call for help. Ken Rand gets around the problem by setting this survival novel on a desert planet fifty light years from the Earth and giving the main character plausible reasons why she has to think her way through problems rather than just relying on technology to keep her alive.

That main character is Anna Devlin, an elementary school teacher on a human colony on the planet Phoenix IV, where there is little rainfall but a breathable atmosphere. Her husband is Martin Devlin, administrator of this colony of 3,000 people. At the beginning of the book, she discovers that she is pregnant. She and Martin had conceived the child by what the book calls the old-fashioned method, sex rather than artificial insemination.

The future that Rand describes is technologically and scientifically very advanced. They have interstellar space travel, instantaneous communication across light years, nanotechnology, and other conveniences. Socially, on the other hand, this future is dystopian. Their world is divided into two classes. Anna and Martin are members of the upper class, called the Authority. Most of the colonists are from the lower class, called the Familia. Authorities are secular and materialistic, while the Familias are religious and dogmatic. When the Familias revolt, they force Anna and Martin to flee from the colony's largest settlement, a village of about 1,000 people called Tierra Natal.

Rand spends too many pages on their flight, because the story really doesn't begin until Anna is on her own in the desert, where the average daytime temperature reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit. She can't call for help. First, the Familias have sabotaged the colony's communication systems. Second, there is no one left to help her. In the desert she learns to apply her own teachings of rational problem solving combined with the education needed for teaching elementary students. Anna is a competent woman, which places the book firmly in the tradition of Robert Heinlein and John W. Campbell. It really doesn't give away the plot to say that she succeeds, because there is a framing story set 35 years later in which she is an old woman telling her story to a teenager named Lisan Navarroclan.

The ecology of the planet is worked out in great detail, although it does suffer in comparison with Dune. There is no description of the physics of faster than light travel, except that people apparently do not suffer from relativistic effects. The latter really isn't important to the story, however.

In conclusion, I can recommend this book. It is a quick and enjoyable read, and I found that I cared about Anna and Martin and what their ultimate fates were.

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May 19, 2004 in Science Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rough Rider

Author: Nina M. Osier
Genre: Science Fiction
Reviewed by JaToya Love

549Rough Rider is an awesome book. From beginning to end, I enjoyed this story.

Joy Grant is a Star Guard Captain. Think Star Fleet and you'll get the point. Nineteen years ago, Joy, then a Lieutenant, and her Captain, Kirk Rogers, along with the rest of their crew came in contact with a sentient race of beings called the Zortians. During the course of establishing first contact and good relations with the Zortians, Captain Gambol was lost to his crew and pronounced dead. Assuming command, Joy did her best to solve the mysterious death of her Captain and lover, but with no physical evidence to prove his death or his continued existence, Joy had no other recourse but to accept the death of her love.

Now nineteen years later, well established Terran settlements have suddenly stopped communicating with Central Command, as well as with routine freighter runs. Something's up and Joy, as the first person to communicate with the Zorti, is sent to find out what. But in doing so old memories are dredged up and secrets are revealed.

Nina Osier has done a great job blending true sci-fi with real drama. There's romance and adventure and chaos and mayhem, and that eternal question -- what impact would humans have on an alien civilization? That is really what this book is about.

When we get to the point where we're zipping off and extending our reach outside the milky way, what will happen to the cultures we encounter, if any? Should we even initiate contact in the first place?

The secondary story here is Joy the woman, her life, and her love. When she first set foot on Zorti she was in love with Captain Gambol, as he was with her. Within hours she found out she was pregnant, and hours after that she was told he was dead. Nineteen years later she has a wonderful son she doesn't know as well as she thinks she should and a new romantic interest in her life. She's sure she doesn't want to face the memories going to Zorti brings but she's equally sure that as a Captain in the Star Guard she will do what is needed of her.

What's cool about this book is that the author flashes back and forth between the past and the present. So, while Joy is living her life every so often the author would fill us in a little more on what happened almost twenty years prior. And we get it from all perspectives, not just Joy's, so we get a complete understanding of the way things happened and why.

What's a bit of a problem with Rough Rider is the occasionally awkward flow of Osier's writing. There are times when the dialogue comes off sounding strange, and inflection is lost unless the sentence is read a few times. And, while I'm no stranger to run on sentences, there are times when the narrative is poorly phrased and that too must be reread until its meaning is assimilated.

Other than those two things, Rough Rider is a pleasure to read. The characters are living, breathing human beings who are easy to connect to and commiserate with, and I'd definitely read another Nina M. Osier book.

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May 19, 2004 in Science Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

The War Bug

Author: Biff Mitchell
Genre: Science Fiction
Reviewed by Susan DiPlacido

546So. What do cheese soup, sentient virtual reality beings, and a seven-hundred pound sado-masochist have to do with each other? Pick up The War Bug and unlock the mysteries. Part sci-fi, part action adventure, and plenty of dark humor is what Biff Mitchell weaves together, along with his eclectic and electric cast in his latest offering.

Abner Hayes is Virtual Code Geneticist, where he works online studying DNA codes of plants and animals and then simulating them offline. However, his offline world is a drag. He's alone, he lives in a hovel, and his parents have already been "included", which Abner fears will also someday happen to him. Especially if his secret about his online life is to ever leak out. Because online, he has a beautiful wife and daughter. They are not avatars from the real world like he is, nor are they flat coded programs. His wife Claire and daughter Cassie are the only two online entities to have made the leap from programs to sentient, thinking and feeling, beings. However, their time is limited because the 'net is under siege and ready to collapse. Abner has created a bubble protection for his family, but they've been abducted by some sinister forces who've figured out his secret and want to unlock it for themselves. The only way to save his family is to team up with the deadly, ultimate destruction virus, known as The War Bug, to find and rescue his family before the entire world crumbles to oblivion.

Thrills and chills abound as the clock ticks down and the race is on for Abner to save his family. This is a rich and complex world, but Mitchell makes it wholly comprehensible without ever losing momentum. In his signature style, the satire and laughs are woven throughout, along with a plethora of zinging one-liners and unique descriptions. The characters are rich and varied, fully-fleshed and wholly intriguing. The good guys have edges, the bad guys have allure. And even amid the brewing chaos in this strange landscape, the story flies so high and resonates because it's so very human.

It's rare that a novel can so thoroughly capture the mind, heart, and imagination. Biff Mitchell is a blessed breed of writer who mixes the real, surreal, and potentially real by fusing philosophy, science, human emotions, humor, and terror. And The War Bug is this writer at the top of his game.

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May 7, 2004 in Science Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)