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Issue #123 - November 2005

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Another One of Those

By Cheryl Morgan

It isnít often that I fail to finish a novel that I take for review. If I can spot beforehand that Iím not going to get on with a book I see no point in trying to read it. In this particular case, however, the book comes from a new small press that Iíd like to help, and its author says heíd rather have a bad review than none at all, so Iím going to try to explain why I couldnít finish it. Letís start with the good stuff.

The book, The Cunning Blood, is one of the initial offerings from ISFIC Press, an offshoot of Illinois Science Fiction In Chicago, and therefore a fannish publisher. Given the success of NESFA Press, I want to see these guys do well. Besides, their book designer is Bob Garcia of American Fantasy, so I know the books are going to look great.

The basic plot is as follows. Earth has expanded a little way into the galaxy. Thus far it has only a few colony planets and one of those is the prison planet, Australia Hell. Felons sentenced to transportation are dropped out of orbit on a one-way trip. The atmosphere of Hell is seeded with a vicious nanovirus that eats anything that smacks of electronics, so the bad guys should never be able to get out. Of course the best of plans can often go awry, and the North American government has been hearing disturbing rumors about goings on in Hell. They decide to send an agent to investigate. To give him a much-needed edge against the bad guys he is expected to find there, author Jeff Duntemann equips him with a bloodstream full of the latest in biotech nano AIs, something that should be proof against Hellís defenses.

The attraction for hard SF fans should be obvious. The inhabitants of Hell might be wicked, but by no means are all of them stupid. They have a whole planet to work with, and every possible incentive to invent technologies that donít require electronics. This gives Duntemann lots of opportunities to come up with smart technological solutions. A lot of SF fans are going to love this book. So why could I not finish it?

Well, the Earth of the book is a terribly authoritarian place. It is a society in which perfectly normal activities of Red Blooded American Males, things like carrying guns, beating up people you donít like, and driving vehicles much faster than is safe, are crimes! Indeed, if you happen to kill some guy just because heís an arsehole who has been annoying you, or he got in the way of your car when you were in a hurry, then you are likely to be sentenced to transportation to Hell! Doubtless the same applies to poor guys who are driven to rape tarts who wonít sleep with them. Heck, this is a society in which playground bullies are regarded as sociopaths rather than as national heroes in the making as ought to be the case. And why has this dreadful situation come to pass? Because thanks to the idiocies of democracy North America is now run by Women! And not just any Women either. Patriotic American Women generally approve of Red Blooded Males. No, North America is under the iron jackboot of Evil Canadian Women! (I was rather hoping they would turn out to be Evil Lesbian Canadian Women, but I guess you canít have people conform to every stereotype.)

So letís think about this for a minute. All of the good guys (Red Blooded American Males) are getting transported to Hell. And being good guys they are going to be smart and good fighters. So guess what one of our heroes gets told when he arrives on Hell? Back on Earth, Jamie Eigen was an actuary for an insurance company. His welcoming committee from the Interstellar American Republic are not familiar with this word, so Jamie explains that his job was counting bodies. This delights his welcomers.

"Hey, thatís good. Youíre gonna be busy."

"Why so?"

"Cause weíre about to wipe goddam Canada off the face of the goddam Earth."

So what is the society on Hell like? I think you can guess. It is a place where, if the government is meaner and nastier than the criminals, crime is magically eliminated. This is especially so if justice is administered swiftly and brutally in public without any form of trial where some slimy lawyer might get the bad guy off. It is a place where business disputes are settled by fights or gambling rather than negotiation. It is a place where Real Men live.

I know that there are plenty of people out there who love this sort of book. It is also possible that it will get less childish as time goes on. But after 100 pages or so I had got to the throw it against the wall stage. By the time one of the characters started quoting the great 20th Century philosopher, Robert A. Heinlein, I was pretty sure what sort of review I was going to write. If it turns out that I am wrong then I apologize profusely to Mr. Duntemann. But in the meantime I am sure that there are a lot of people out there who are leaping with joy at finding other book that has got Cheryl mad and will be rushing out to buy it.

Just one word of warning. If you happen to be Canadian, donít buy this book. I donít want to be responsible for anyone dying from unrestrained fury.

Oh, and the really amusing thing is that the book ISFIC is bringing out to launch their line is Relativity by Canadaís most famous SF writer, Robert J. Sawyer. Letís hope he doesnít have to do any joint signings with Duntemann.

The Cunning Blood - Jeff Duntemann - ISFIC Press - publisher's proof

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Emerald City - copyright Cheryl Morgan - cheryl@emcit.com
Masthead Art copyright Steven Stahlberg (left) and Gerhard Hoeberth (right)
Additional artwork by Frank Wu & Sue Mason
Designed by Tony Geer
Copyright of individual articles remains with their authors
Editorial assistants: Anne K.G. Murphy & Kevin Standlee