The Cassini Division, Ken MacLeod (Tor 0-312-87044-2, $22.95, 240pp, hc, July 1999) This is MacLeod's third novel and the first to appear in a US edition. It's set in the same future as the earlier books (The Star Fraction, 1995, and The Stone Canal, 1996): a 24th century utopian Solar Union based around Earth, and an outer solar system where the quasi-military Cassini Division watch over the descendants of the Outwarders or 'fast folk' who left for interstellar space via a wormhole. The book's heroine travels from the Cassini Division to Earth and back, and then to the New Mars colony on the far side of the wormhole. Locus reviewer Russell Letson, in the July 1999 issue, perceives the author as a ''bright and entertaining libertarian undergraduate'' and calls the The Cassini Division
an intelligent and inventive book that combines space adventure, alien contact, and utopian inquiry in a manner that nevertheless left my ribs bruised from frequent elbow-nudges.Aside from the author's penchant for political provocation, according to Letson, the book has ''plenty of ingenious SF ideas and devices'' (nano-mechanical 'babbages'; smart suits with fashion senses of their own); a ''punny, verbal playfulness'' that brings levels of irony to its political-philosphical arguments; and a strongly driven plot. Letson concludes
...I will be interested in seeing both the predecessors and descendants of this novel. Even when he's annoying, MacLeod is too much fun to ignore.
(The book was first published in 1998 by Orbit in the UK, where it was shortlisted for both the Arthur C. Clarke and the BSFA awards. Its Amazon.co.uk page includes a review by David Langford, and customer comments from, among others, MacLeod's US editor at Tor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden. MacLeod's fourth novel, The Sky Road, has just appeared in the UK.)
The Sub: A Study in Witchcraft, Thomas M. Disch (Knopf 0-679-44292-8, $24.00, 285pp, hc, July 1999) Latest in a loose series of blackly humorous literary horror novels set in Minnesota, following The Businessman (1984), The M.D. (1991), and The Priest (1994). It's about a repressed substitute teacher who returns to her homestead in Leech Lake MN, where the ghost of her (perhaps) abusive father ignites her latent powers. As Faren Miller writes in the June Locus Magazine, Diana ''finds herself able to turn humans into beasts''.
This gives Disch plenty of opportunities for sharp descriptions and satirical carcatures of various types of human behavior, mostly blue-collar middle-American. ... When Diana's first victim is transformed into a stag (in a scene invoking a certain episode in the goddess Diana's classical pursuits), this act of magic clearly takes place in modern Minnesota. And Disch puts a truly American face on witchcraft/ancient magics: ''Wherever sheer intimidation is at a premium, witches flourish. They have always been the best sales personnel and trial lawyers and the most effective nursery school teachers.''Miller concludes: ''The Sub is nasty, witty, and wise, an animal fable with a lot to say about nature, human nature, and the ways of this strange world we inhabit.''
|© 1999 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.|