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Book Buzz: Old Man's War Revisited

John Scalzi returns to his Hugo-nominated, Heinlein-inspired SF series

By Pat Ferrara     August 18, 2008


Author John Scalzi and the cover of his book Zoe's Tale
© N/A
Although John Scalzi’s original Old Man’s War novel got served by Robert Wilson’s Spin in the 2006 Hugo competition for Best Novel, the online blogger turned sci-fi master snagged his first silver rocket as 2008’s Best Fan Writer, toppling David Langford’s rigor mortis grip on the much coveted, little known award category.
 
Scalzi, whose online writing has been published in the Chicago Tribune and Subterranean Press’s blog collection You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop, has specialized in science fiction critique since the early ‘90s. After years of SF analysis Scalzi has finally found his own voice in long-form science fiction with the 2005 debut of Old Man’s War. A cross between Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War and Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Old Man’s War garnered enormous critical acclaim and sired two sequels, the loosely-tied The Ghost Brigades and the more recent The Last Colony.
 
This week Scalzi debuts the next installment in the Old Man’s War series, Zoe’s Tale, on hardback through Tor Books. Despite his pessimistic bacon on a cat slogan, Scalzi has truly broken into the genre.
 
In other book news the novel tie-in to LucasArt’s next Star Wars game title, The Force Unleashed, is brought to the literary medium in not one, not two, but three different varieties. Aussie Sean Williams, who penned the Force Heretic series with Shane Dix, translated The Force Unleashed into novel format, which is being released in hardback through Del Rey and on audiobook CD through Random House Audio. Haden Blackman, meanwhile, took The Force Unleashed story to the graphic novel medium with illustrators Brian Ching & David Ross, released through Dark Horse Comics.
 
Other notable releases for the week include Matheson Uncollected, Ed Greenwood’s second Niflheim installment Dark Vengeance, Elizabeth Engstrom’s The Northwood Chronicles and the staggeringly robust superhero anthology The Darker Mask.
 
 
 
New in Hardcover:
 
 
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Sean Williams (Del Rey)
 
The overthrow of the Republic is complete. The Separatist forces have been smashed, the Jedi Council nearly decimated, and the rest of the Order all but destroyed. Now absolute power rests in the iron fist of Darth Sidious–the cunning Sith lord better known as the former Senator, now Emperor, Palpatine. But more remains to be done. Pockets of resistance in the galaxy must still be defeated and missing Jedi accounted for…and dealt with. These crucial tasks fall to the Emperor’s ruthless enforcer, Darth Vader. In turn, the Dark Lord has groomed a lethal apprentice entrusted with a top-secret mission: to comb the galaxy and dispatch the last of his masters’ enemies, thereby punctuating the dark side’s victory with the Jedi’s doom. Since childhood, Vader’s nameless agent has known only the cold, mercenary creed of the Sith. His past is a void; his present, the carrying out of his deadly orders. But his future beckons like a glistening black jewel with the ultimate promise: to stand beside the only father he has ever known, with the galaxy at their feet. It is a destiny he can realize only by rising to the greatest challenge of his discipleship: destroying Emperor Palpatine. The apprentice’s journeys will take him across the far reaches of the galaxy, from the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk to the junkyard planet of Raxus Prime. On these missions, the young Sith acolyte will forge an unlikely alliance with a ruined Jedi Master seeking redemption and wrestle with forbidden feelings for his beautiful comrade, JunoEclipse. And he will be tested as never before–by shattering revelations that strike at the very heart of all he believes and stir within him long-forgotten hopes of reclaiming his name . . . and changing his destiny.
 
 
Ill Met in the Arena, Dave Duncan (Tor)
 
For centuries the nobility of Aureity have been breeding their children for psychic power. When their sons reach manhood, they enter the arena to prove their strength in a series of magical duels. The winner is offered honor, high office, and lifelong pairing with a woman of high rank, so his entire future life and the quality of his descendants depend on his success. Two of the contestants in the tournament at Bere Parochian do not fit the pattern. Humate of Alfet is an adolescent, too young to have taken the proper training. But Humate has special reasons for trying to jump the line and he is a scion of an imperial family. His bloodlines have given him incredible power, and he relies on that alone to master any grown man he is likely to meet in the games. The other is Quirt of Mundil, an older man, who proved himself a champion in his youth and has now returned to the arena with his own secret agenda. He cannot hope to match the boy in sheer strength but he knows all the tricks. This time there is more than a winner's crown at stake--there is atrocity and revenge. There is even a possible war, and there is the hand of a lady.
 
 
Matheson Uncollected Vol. 1, Richard Matheson (Gauntlet Press)
 
These are almost two dozen works of fiction that have never been collected together for Matheson. These rarities will be found in Matheson Uncollected, Volumes One and Two.
Volume One includes: Matheson’s only Star Trek script “The Enemy Within” with an introduction by George Clayton Johnson, Matheson's unfinished novel Colony Seven and his outline for the completed novel as well as a selection of uncollected short stories: “He Wanted To Life,” “Life Size,” “Man With A Club,” “Professor Fritz and the Runaway Train,” “Purge Among Peanuts,” “The Prisoner,” “The Last Blah in the Etc.,” “Counterfeit Bills,” “1984 1/2,” “Pride,” and the screenplay for "No Such Thing as a Vampire" (Lettered Edition only).
 
 
Niflheim: Dark Vengeance, Ed Greenwood (Tor)
 
Orivon Firefist was captured as a six-year-old child by the Nilfghar—the dark elves—who attacked his village by night on one of their surface raids. Fifteen years later, he was a moon-pale, scarred, muscular giant of a man, who spent his days at forgework for a dark elf family. He had been trained (and flogged and ordered about) by the beautiful Tsarnarra, a lash-wielding matron who is icily cruel, but proud of the slaves that she has trained. Through all of this, Orivon's spirit had never been broken and he rose up and opposed his underworld tyrants. He has successfully returned to the surface world home that he thought only existed in his most distant dreams. But the score is far from settled. Years of oppression and new revelations of the dark deeds of his former captors only fuel his forge of rage. And the fact that their evil still permeates the underworld only intensifies his desire for a dark vengeance.
 
 
The Northwood Chronicles, Elizabeth Engstrom (Five Star)
 
White Pines Junction is a town with a dark secret. Those who live in the northwoods know that their community has a foot in two worlds—one in reality and one not—and they live contentedly, for the most part, with a few murderous secrets. To all appearances, White Pines Junction is a normal small town with a lively summer fishing and tourism industry. It has a weekly newspaper, a fancy resort on the lake, a diner, a tackle shop, some nice stores, a wax museum, and a decrepit, abandoned amusement park. One evening, a young boy goes missing—disappears right out of the arms of his babysitter—and his parents deal with their grief right along with the other residents, who are all mired in their own curious doings. The mother's quest for emotional solutions to these regular disappearances and the local computer geek's determination to discover the physical answers to them come together in the only conclusion that could occur in such an uncanny place.
 
 
Old Man’s War: Zoe’s Tale, John Scalzi (Tor)
 
How do you tell your part in the biggest tale in history? I ask because it's what I have to do. I'm Zoe Boutin Perry: A colonist stranded on a deadly pioneer world. Holy icon to a race of aliens. A player (and a pawn) in a interstellar chess match to save humanity, or to see it fall. Witness to history. Friend. Daughter. Human. Seventeen years old. Everyone on Earth knows the tale I am part of. But you don't know my tale: How I did what I did—how I did what I had to do—not just to stay alive but to keep you alive, too. All of you. I'm going to tell it to you now, the only way I know how: not straight but true, the whole thing, to try and make you feel what I felt: the joy and terror and uncertainty, panic and wonder, despair and hope. Everything that happened, bringing us to Earth, and Earth out of its captivity. All through my eyes. It's a story you know. But you don't know it all.
 
 
Sly Mongoose, Tobias S. Buckell (Tor)
 
Welcome to Chilo, a planet with corrosive rain, crushing pressure, and deadly heat. Fortunately, fourteen-year-old Timas lives in one of the domed cities that float 100,000 feet above the surface, circling near the edge of a monstrous perpetual storm. Above the acidic clouds the temperature and pressure are normal. But to make a living, Timas like many other young men, is lowered to the surface in an armored suit to scavenge what he can. Timas’s life is turned upside down when a strange man crash lands on the city. The newcomer is fleeing an alien intelligence intent on invading the planet and discovering the secret hidden deep inside the perpetual storm—a secret that could lead to interplanetary war. As the invaded cities fall silent one by one, Chilo’s citizens must race against time to stop the enemy. And Timas will find out what kind of man he has become in the harsh conditions of Chilo’s surface.
 
 
 
New in Paperback:
 
 
The Vampire Tapestry, Suzy McKee Charnas (Orb Books)
 
Edward Weyland is far from your average vampire: not only is he a respected anthropology professor but his condition is biological — rather than supernatural. He lives discrete lifetimes bounded by decades of hibernation and steals blood from labs rather than committing murder. Weyland is a monster who must form an uneasy empathy with his prey in order to survive, and The Vampire Tapestry is a story wholly unlike any you've heard before.
 
 
The Darker Mask: Heroes From the Shadows, Ed. by Gary Phillips & Christopher Chambers (Tor)
 
Expanding on the concept behind Byron Preiss's Weird Heroes from the 1970s, George R. R. Martin's Wild Card series, and Michael Chabon's McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, The Darker Mask is a collection of original prose stories recalling the derring-do of the beings we call Superheroes and the worlds they fight to save. But unique to The Darker Mask stories is that these plots and characters color a literary universe outside of what has been predominantly white, idiosyncratic, and male in previous homages to pulp. This is the stuff of urban legends, new mythos, and extraordinary folks who might live in a soon-to-be-gentrified ghetto, the dreary rust-belt of the city, or in another dimension. The Darker Mask offers an eclectic mix of popular fiction writers exploring worlds gritty, visceral, and fantastic. Including stories by: Walter Mosley, L. A. Banks, Naomi Hirahara, Lorenzo Carcaterra, Tananarive Due and Stephen Barnes, Mike Gonzales, Gar Anthony Haywood, Ann Nocenti, Jerry Rodriguez, Reed Farrell Coleman, Doselle Young, Mat Johnson, Peter Spiegelman, Alexandra Sokoloff, Christopher Chambers, Gary Phillips, Victor LaValle, and Wayne Wilson.
 
 
The Stress of Her Regard, Tim Powers (Tachyon Publications)
 
When Michael Crawford discovers his bride brutally murdered in their wedding bed, he is forced to flee not only to prove his innocence, but to avoid the deadly embrace of a vampire who has claimed him as her true bridegroom. Joining forces with Byron, Keats, and Shelley in a desperate journey that crisscrosses Europe, Crawford desperately seeks his freedom from this vengeful lover who haunts his dreams and will not rest until she destroys all that he cherishes. Told in the guise of a secret history, this long-awaited tale of passion and terror is finally back in print after more than 20 years.
 
 
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Haden Blackman (Dark Horse)
 
LucasArts' game The Force Unleashed, is poised to be the Star Wars event of the year. The game-play promises to be stunning, but we think it's the story that will blow you away. Revealed here are the origins of Darth Vader's secret apprentice, the deadly missions on which he was sent to track down and destroy Jedi, and the awesome decision he is forced to make that will, literally, change the way you look at the Star Wars saga! Illustrated by Brian Ching & David Ross.
 
 
The Age of Conglomerates, Thomas Nevins (Ballantine Books)
 
Now that they are in power, there are no more checks and balances. The Conglomerates, and their mysterious party chairman, have taken over everything and everyone. There is no one left to stop them. Forty years in the future, in a world where Big Brother runs amok, a powerful political party known as the Conglomerates has emerged, vowing to enforce economic martial law at any cost. Dr. Christine Salter, director of genetic development at a New York medical center, is in charge of “genetic contouring,” the much-in-demand science of producing the ideal child. But Christine is increasingly troubled by odd events, including the strange disappearance of Gabriel Cruz, a co-worker for whom she has a developing affection, and the fact that her latest assignment–making the Conglomerate chairman more youthful through genetic engineering–is an especially dangerous task. As mandated by the Family Relief Act, Christine’s grandparents are relocated to a government-designed community in the American Southwest, along with other Coots (the official term given to the elderly), who are considered an economic and social burden to family and society. But even in this cold, cruel age, the Conglomerates can only control so much. In his enthralling debut, Thomas Nevins thrillingly chronicles a brave new world where one family struggles to survive by keeping alive feelings of mercy, loyalty, and love.
 
 
 
New in Audiobook:
 
 
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Sean Williams (Random House Audio Abridged)
 
The overthrow of the Republic is complete. The Separatist forces have been smashed, the Jedi Council nearly decimated, and the rest of the Order all but destroyed. Now absolute power rests in the iron fist of Darth Sidious–the cunning Sith lord better known as the former Senator, now Emperor, Palpatine. But more remains to be done. Pockets of resistance in the galaxy must still be defeated and missing Jedi accounted for…and dealt with. These crucial tasks fall to the Emperor’s ruthless enforcer, Darth Vader. In turn, the Dark Lord has groomed a lethal apprentice entrusted with a top-secret mission: to comb the galaxy and dispatch the last of his masters’ enemies, thereby punctuating the dark side’s victory with the Jedi’s doom. Since childhood, Vader’s nameless agent has known only the cold, mercenary creed of the Sith. His past is a void; his present, the carrying out of his deadly orders. But his future beckons like a glistening black jewel with the ultimate promise: to stand beside the only father he has ever known, with the galaxy at their feet. It is a destiny he can realize only by rising to the greatest challenge of his discipleship: destroying Emperor Palpatine. The apprentice’s journeys will take him across the far reaches of the galaxy, from the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk to the junkyard planet of Raxus Prime. On these missions, the young Sith acolyte will forge an unlikely alliance with a ruined Jedi Master seeking redemption and wrestle with forbidden feelings for his beautiful comrade, JunoEclipse. And he will be tested as never before–by shattering revelations that strike at the very heart of all he believes and stir within him long-forgotten hopes of reclaiming his name . . . and changing his destiny.
 
 
Island in the Sea of Time: Against the Tide of Years, S.M. Stirling (Tantor Media)
 
George R. R. Martin hailed S. M. Stirling's bestselling novel Island in the Sea of Time as "an utterly engaging account of what happens when the isle of Nantucket is whisked back into the Bronze Age." Now the adventure continues with Against the Tide of Years. Read by Todd McLaren.
 
 
 
Check back next Monday for all the latest info on current sci-fi, fantasy, and horror book releases. Questions or comments? Hit me up at Pferrara.mania@gmail.com.

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