Rich Horton Reviews Books by David F. Shultz, Cynthia Ward, and Peter Watts

Strange Economics, David F. Shultz, ed. (TdotSpec) August 2018.
The Adventure of the Dux Bellorum, Cynthia Ward (Aqueduct) September 2018.
The Freeze-Frame Revolution, Peter Watts (Tachyon) June 2018.

Strange Economics is an anthology devoted to stories examining economics from highly speculative viewpoints, both science fictional and fantastical, and is quite successful at that. The stories are mostly fairly short and uneven, but I quite liked the ideas behind some of them. For example, the opening story, “The Slow Bomb” by Neil James Hudson, posits mysterious planes dropping bombs that fall at an almost unde­tectable rate, but that can’t be stopped. Humanity is toast when the bombs hit – but these bombs harbor incredible energy in their slowed-up state. What if one could harvest that, at the price of accelerating the end of the world? Economically, what would that energy be worth, versus a few extra years in a doomed situation? This is definitely a philosophi­cally and economically intriguing notion, given human weight by following the protagonist’s moral involvement when he’s asked to determine the worth of a few years of the whole world’s lives versus short term prosperity. Fraser Sherman, in “The Grass is Always Greener“, also suggests a scary economic proposition – what if rich people could buy the future of less fortunate people – who might have hit it big if only….

Cynthia Ward offers The Adventure of the Dux Bellorum, a sequel to her fine 2017 novella The Adventure of the Incognita Countess. Much of the fun in these stories is the gleeful mashup of historical and fictional characters – the previous story was set on the Titanic and featured nods to Stoker, Doyle, and Wells at least. The books also carefully interleave different vampire traditions – notably, the protagonist, Lucy Harker, is a dhampir, and her lover, Clarimal Stein, is an upiór, and their differing natures are important to plot, theme, and character. This new book begins in 1916 with Lucy ordered to the front to be a bodyguard for Winston Churchill, amid rumors of the Germans abducting women, taming wolfmen, and possibly using flying dinosaurs as part of the war effort. Reunited with Miss Stein, the two chase the kidnapped Churchill across Belgium (where we get to meet a certain unnamed Belgian with a recognizable moustache) and into Germany, and to a secret research facil­ity in the mountain Venusberg (with Wagner and Burroughs folded into the mashup!) It’s all good fun, not without more serious rumination on issues like colonialism and women’s suffrage.

The Freeze-Frame Revolution is also a sequel – to Peter Watts‘s excellent earlier piece “The Island”. The Eriophora continues its journey around the Galaxy building wormhole gates. This results in its crew jumping forward into the distant future, as they are only woken every so often for brief times. It’s hard for them to communicate with each other consistently, but this story tells of the growing awareness by some of them that something is not right about their mission and how they try to mount a rebellion against the AI in control of the ship, or against the true controllers of the AI. Fascinating work, and very, very dark in its impli­cations, as with pretty much everything by Watts.

Rich Horton works for a major aerospace company in St. Louis MO. He has published over a dozen anthologies, including the yearly series The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy from Prime Books, and he is the Reprint Editor for Lightspeed Magazine. He contributes articles and reviews on SF and SF history to numerous publications.

This review and more like it in the April 2019 issue of Locus.

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