Fosfax, Issue 205, Part 1, Page 60


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Fosfax, Issue 205, Part 1, Page 60


Science Fiction


Sixtieth page of Fosfax, Issue 205, Part One: Book reviews


Timothy Lane


Fosfax, Issue 205, Part 1, July 2002




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(Farthest Star, 2001 reissue, $19.50)
Review by Timothy Lane
The Velvet Comet is a space brothel, and more. In addition to the finest prostitutes (male and female), it has the finest restaurants, not to mention banks and boutiques. After all, its clientele are the rich and powerful — and they want more than sex. Some have especially pe¬culiar wants.
In Eros Ascending, Harry Red wine wants to ruin the place. His specialty is fraudulent accounting, to support high-level corporate po-litics in the Vainmill Syndicate. But a ftinny thing happens to lonely, hollow Harry (an interesting portrayal; Dean Koontz would no doubt appreciate it): he falls in love with the Leather Madonna, prostitute and madam (she shares his basic loneliness). Resolving the emotional conflict drives the main part of the novel. The confrontation between Velvet Comet security chief Rasputin and Redwine's boss is worth the price of admission by itself. Also delightful is the Leather Madonna's guided tour of the facilities for Redwine, in particular her explanation of why such items as their tropical isle are fantasy rooms.
Eros at Zenith deals with murder. Andrew Jackson Crane is there to solve the crime. He expects the task to go quickly (no lack of ego here), and this turns out to be true. But the murder proves to be part of something much larger (Star Trek fans may recall the episode "The Conscience of the King" here, which is as much of a hint as I intend to give), and the heart of the story is what to do about it. The moral issues prove to be quite complex.
Eros Descending is a tragedy, and a spooky one today. The Rev-erend Thomas Gold leads an obscure, puritanical religion, and for a number of reasons he has targeted the Vainmill Syndicate. The ram¬pant immorality of the Velvet Comet is a minor part; far more serious is the syndicate’s abysmal treatment of aliens. Unfortunately, he soon finds himself sexually fascinated by a pair of fairy-like aliens on the Velvet Comet. The results will be bad for a lot of people.
It’s important to note that Gold is treated quite sympathetically (it wouldn’t be a tragedy otherwise). Unlike his extremely self-righteous son, he understands (as do the other adherents of his religion present¬ed) that people are imperfect, and is ready to forgive their trespasses. He is far more likable than his ruthless, amoral antagonist at Vain¬mill, Richard Constantine.
Sometime after the brothel has closed down, Nate Page is hired to write a musical comedy based on it. Not everything is gone, and the computer is still fully functional, so research is easy. But not so easy, because the computer wants him to write a realistic story (from which the title Eros at Nadir comes), and Nate is soon reminded that realism has no place in a musical comedy. He becomes the Velvet Comet's last prostitute. (This was written before Resnick started adapting his own books for Hollywood, but I gather he hasn't changed his atti¬tude.) One interesting aspect of this book is that it gives one an idea of how the prostitutes really liked their jobs: it was often hellish, and many ended up drugged out or suicidal.
There is also an author's note, in which Resnick explains how the series came about (some aspects of this remind me of the origins of Ivory), and then briefly discusses each book. (He can use more detail than I can, because he assumes you’ve finished the book by the time you get that far, whereas I have to be careful not to spoil things too badly. This is an especially severe problem for the middle two books of the series.)

THE PESHAWAR LANCERS by S. M. Stirling (Roc, $23.95)
Review by Timothy Lane
This is set in the year 2025, in an alternate world in which a spray of comets struck Earth in 1878, immediately devastating Europe and North America due to impacts, and then nearly wiping out the rest of the world due to temporary climatic alterations. Eventually, thanks in part to good preparations in England (where Disraeli had the advice of Lord Kelvin and other physicists as to the consequences), the world recovered its technology (there has been some advance, but not much, since then) and stabilized its population. England itself survived the impacts, but not the cooling; the Empire moved its base (including the government, business, and scientific leadership) to India.
As always, there are enemies. Dai-Nippon, combining what was left of China and Japan, is the most powerful rival; a Caliph rules the Levant, aided by Muslim fanaticism (the book is a lot more interesting after 9/11 than Stirling could have expected it to be); there’s a French Napoleonic remnant based in North Africa, which has begun to re¬cover Europe; there are lesser groups, such as the Afghan tribes, who will play an important role in the story (ditto my earlier comment). And worst of all, there is the Russian remnant, based in central Asia and dedicated to Tchernobog. (I have to wonder about the religious changes in the book. Would people who really Believe change views as readily as Stirling has them? This is often a problem when atheists and agnostics have to deal with religion.)
As it happens, the priests of Tchernobog have developed an inter-esting resource: a small set of female seers who can be used for such purposes as finding out who in India is vulnerable to blackmail. So, even though Russia is technologically backward, it can (either through Japanese assistance or from blackmail victims) generally get what it wants. One thing it wants — or at least its top agent wants; he may be operating largely on his own here — is the elimination of an entire British family, represented in this generation by Athelstane King and his sister Cassandra. (It seems there will be another strike a century after the events of the book, and their progeny will play an important role in saving humanity. A devout worshipper of Tchernobog would naturally have a different priority.)
That, basically, is the setup for the plot (though not all of this is known in the beginning). There are many other people involved, of¬ten in very interesting roles; diabolists who wish to destroy the whole world can have a problem maintaining loyalty. One interesting item is that the British, in dealing with Muslim hashashin (it’s interesting that the singular "assassin" actually comes from the Arabic plural, as is also true of "Bedouin"), punish them by hanging them — but with the added refinement of a pigskin suit and a piece of pork stuck in the throat in order to send them to meet Shaitan instead of Allah. In fact, this apparently would be useful even today.
Stirling fans will naturally find this an enjoyable work. Someone interested in giving him a try will appreciate one aspect of The Pesha-war Lancers: while a sequel is certainly possible, it isn't necessary. That's right, this is actually a complete, independent work. It may be worth reading just on that basis alone. (But, as with so many works I've read lately, it could have used some better copy-editing. Just as one example, George IV ruled right after George III, so the later king in his list would be George V, presumably the same man who in our world had two battleships named after him.)

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