Wednesday, January 30, 2008

More Posleen Novels

It appears that Cally's War and Sister Time are going to be a trilogy. According to information posted on Baen's Bar, the tentative title for the third collaboration between John Ringo and Julie Cochrane will be The Honor of the Clan.

After the trilogy is completed, John is going to be returning to the Mike O'Neal story arc with another three novels. These were contracted shortly after the death of Baen Publishing founder Jim Baen, as part of a package of deals intended to reassure readers that the company would survive the man who created it. However, they have been on hold while other projects were completed.

In addition, Tom Kratman has been snippeting a novel tentatively entitled The Tuloriad (yes, it's a deliberate Classical reference), which helps draw the links between the Posleen of the War and the Tular Posleenar who were mentioned in The Hero. He's done some pretty radical speculation about the history of the Posleen and the Aldenata, and it's possible that John will veto significant portions of the novel, but what I've seen looks promising.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Disaster Ringo Style

John Ringo originally earned his chops with the Legacy of the Aldenata, a military science fiction series of the invasion of Earth by seemingly unstoppable cannibalistic alien hordes. Now he takes up yet another familiar trope of post-apocalyptic science fiction, namely the plague that ravages civilization. The Last Centurion is a first for Ringo in that it is written in first-person POV, half memoir and half socio-political commentary, as the protagonist reflects upon the catastrophic combination of an avian flu mutated to spread by casual human contact and sudden climate change.

I've been singularly impressed by the snippets John has been posting on Baen's Bar. Normally a blatant political message in a work of fiction gets my back up something fierce. But the first-person narrator's voice is so intense it carries me right over my normal objections. I feel like I'm sitting right there with this guy, maybe at a bar or in the con suite of some convention, listening to him tell his story.

I'm really looking forward to seeing how this novel ends. As a historian, I can see two possible conclusion, based upon historical models. The most obvious is a devolutionary spiral and permanent collapse back to an early-industrial or even pre-industrial culture. History is littered with examples of civilizations that came apart under the pressures of a major plague combined with climate change that shifted the growing season for key crops -- the most obvious from the title is the Roman Empire (yes, one of the current theories is that an early outbreak of bubonic plague combined with a series of cold winters caused by a caldera supervolcano eruption did the Western Empire in -- see Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of Modern Civilization by David Keys).

However, the long-term effects of a plague can also be major progress in a civilization, as witness the Black Death. In the late Middle Ages Europe was caught in a high-end trap, in which increases in agricultural production immediately went to increases in population rather than economic growth. The sudden reduction of the population as a result of the plague freed both labor and capital for growth. Labor, which had previously been so cheap it had to be bound to the manor by extra-economic means, now came into sufficient demand that peasants and craftsmen could strike a much better bargain for their work. Similarly, the sudden death of a substantial portion of the wealthy elite meant the survivors had a surplus that could be invested in long-term ventures such as art and the various crafts. The result was the Renaissance, and ultimately the modern world.

The key factor in the Last Centurion's future will probably be energy. Given that we have already used up most of the easily accessible deposits of coal and oil, if human culture falls below the ability to extract those vital resources, it will probably be stuck for good. However, if the ability to manage large-scale energy utilization is retained, and even expanded through the development of additional nuclear power plants, it's quite possible that the grandchildren of the survivors will enjoy a world that's actually better.

Given John Ringo's known dislike for a certain kind of fuzzy-minded liberalism that opposes nuclear energy among other things, there are reasons to be hopeful for the long-term future of the fictional world he has created.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Back to Pax

Elizabeth Moon has announced on her Sff newsgroup that she will be writing another novel in the same universe as her The Deed of Paksenarrion. However, it appears that she's going to be dealing with a different part of that world, one that was only mentioned in passing in the original novel. Her extensive discussion of the nature of human culture promises a very interesting, many-layered work.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I'm Impressed!

Four years ago I fairly wept as I reviewed Tom Kratman's A State of Disobedience. There was just so much unrealized promise in it that I wanted to praise it, but I couldn't because that would do a disservice not only to my readers, but to the author, who could do so much better.

In the following years, Col. Kratman has co-written two books with John Ringo, Watch on the Rhine and Yellow Eyes. Both of them were set in Ringo's Posleen War series, and have given Kratman the opportunity to concentrate on storytelling in an established universe.

And now that apprenticeship has paid off with interest. As I read the first six chapters of the good Colonel's forthcoming novel Caliphate, I'm delighted to see that he has overcome all the weaknesses I had noted in his debut novel. Every scene comes to life with a vividness that sticks with you long after you click the close button on your browser window. The characters, even the nasty ones, come to life -- no cardboard villains or plaster-saint heroes here. Although there are never any questions as to who the good and bad guys are, the villains have real human motivations like greed, and the heroes have real weaknesses against which they must struggle.

Even as it is a novel of America's struggle against radical Islamic fundamentalism and the terrible price she has paid in pieces of her very soul, it is also the story of good Muslims trying to do the right thing in a culture that turns them into monsters. Besma's courage, however untempered by self-restraint, will live in the memory just as long as Lt. Hamilton's fierce lust for vengeance after his beloved is killed, or Petra's helplessness in the clutches of an evil system.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Inda News

According to news on the Athanerel community, King's Shield will not be the last volume of Sherwood Smith's Inda series, as originally planned. Instead the editors at DAW have decided that the final volume should be split in two to give the story arcs more room to develop.

This is particularly exciting because it means that the publisher really believes in this series as a potential moneymaker. Given the soft economy and the notable lack of publicity Sherwood Smith's previous works have received, any sign of publisher enthusiasm is good.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Library in the Sky

It's the dream of every science fiction reader -- an endless bookshelf with all of our favorites, and always room for more. A library fit for a voyage across the light-years, with all those stories of strange new worlds, of wonders and adventures to be had for the price of a book.

Here you will find news of the latest publications by the big houses and the small presses alike, as well as more than a few old favorites.