Fantasy/SF Book Reviews

The Internet Writing Journal

Cosm by Gregory Benford

Eos, Feb., 1998.
Hardcover, 344 pages.
ISBN: 0380974355.
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Cover of Cosm by
Gregory Benford Alicia Butterworth, a brilliant black physicist who has a slight weight problem and a non-existent social life, makes a remarkable discovery during a high-energy physics experiment attempting to recreate the conditions present before the Big Bang which began our universe. As a result of an accident from an experiment which damaged the collider, an unusual metallic-like sphere has formed. Suspecting that the sphere may provide insight into what went wrong, she sneaks the sphere out of the lab. Against her best friend's wishes, who wants her to spend her time checking out the local singles' scene, she and her students begin to study the object which has unusual physical properties. With the help of a colleague, Max Jalon, she discovers that the sphere may be a window into another universe which is developing at ever-increasing rate, which could provide fascinating information about the formation and nature of our own Universe. But when a freak accident occurs in the lab and word about the strange object gets picked up in the media, the race is on to find out its secrets before the government, the University or the press can take control of the project. In addition to the stresses of the project, Alicia and Max must contend with their growing attraction for one another.

Cosm is a compelling adventure into the unknown with exciting details and insight into the development of our solar system and Universe. Gregory Benford, author and professor of physics at the University of California at Irvine, has crafted a winning tale that is appealing both for its skillful presentation of complex scientific theories and a compelling human interest story.

Freeware by Rudy Rucker

Eos, March 1998.
Paperback, 262 pages.
ISBN: 038078159X.
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Cover of Freeware
by Rudy Rucker On Earth in 2053, there are two sentient species: humans and moldies. Moldies are artificial lifeforms made from imoplex, a soft plastic material and a mixture of gene-tweaked fungi and algae which give off a "cheesy" smell. The moldies main goal in life is to get enough imoplex to reproduce themselves; therefore, they end up taking a lot of menial jobs for humans to make the money to purchase the coveted material. Humans and moldies cohabit fairly peaceably, although extremes of both groups despise each other and often resort to violence. Some humans like the moldies for their malleable bodies -- such humans are known as cheeseballs for their unnatural sexual attraction to the moldies. Freeware follows the lives of several moldies and fleshers (humans) which all ultimately intersect when a very real threat to Earth appears in the form of a new invention which will allow alien personalities from other galaxies to inhabit both human and moldies' bodies and to wipe out the original hosts' minds.

The third book following Software and Wetware, Freeware is classic Rucker: zany, irreverent, brazen, funny and definitely not for the conservative or faint of heart. But for those who like their SF on the edge with a cyberpunk twist are in for a typically hilarious Ruckerian rollercoaster ride through the cosmos.

Hand of Prophecy by Severna Park

Eos, March 1998.
Hardcover, 384 pages.
ISBN: 0380976390.
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Cover of Hand of Prophecy
by Severna Park On the planet Bellea-Naya, slavegirl Frenna serves the brutish veterinarian Olney Mallau of the Emirate Extension Service. Bred for generations to be the perfect companions by the former occupants of the planet, the Faraqui, Frenna's bloodlines mark her as a "Favored One." Like the other slaves in the conqured territories Frenna has been dosed at the age of 18 with a virus which gives her perfect health and no aging for twenty years. When the twenty years is up, the slave "Fails" and dies, agonizingly. When the Faraqui threaten to reinvade their old territories, Frenna's slave friends reveal that there is a cure for the Failure and that slaves don't have to die at the end of the 20 years. With three doses of the cure, Frenna escapes from Bellea-Naya only to be picked up by Rasha, one of the legendary Faraqui who bred the Favored Ones to be genetically attracted and subservient to the Faraqui. When Frenna resists this new life of slavery, Rasha dumps her on another Emirate world where she is taken on as a medic in an arena which uses slaves in gladitorial games. There she meets Troah, Rasha's disgraced, enslaved prophetess sister and Hallie a gladiator, and becomes involved in the underground movement to free the slaves.

Severna Park, author of the acclaimed Speaking Dreams, has crafted an intriguing tale with Hand of Prophecy. Although readers who have no interest in gladiator games may be less than thrilled with the lengthy details of the games and individual matches, they will nevertheless be drawn into the fascinating tale of Frenna's journey to freedom and a new identity. Although the novel is set in another world, readers will identify with many of the themes of the book: the power struggles in all relationships and the search for an identity by an outsider. Frenna's struggles to find out who she is and what she wants out of a life that before the cure was found had no choices or freedom at all are compelling and resonate with insight because of Park's gifts with language and her abilities to get inside the intricacies of human relationships. A thought provoking and surprisingly moving novel.

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