The Portable Universe 18

written for The Elkhart Truth,
Spring 1985, but never published

Spring seems to have had the same fertilizing effect on SF publishers’ presses as it did on my back yard this year, triggering an outpouring of life. Happily, unlike my yard, most of that outpouring proved to be flowers rather than weeds. Even before the appearance of “Helliconia Winter” (Athenuem, $17.95), the creation of the world of Helliconia, with its binary star system and 25-century climatic cycle called the Great Year, stood as the high point in Brian Aldiss’s long writing career.

Aldiss created for himself a broad canvas with a very fine weave, and with the appearance of the third and final volume, it’s safe to say that he knew what to do with it (unlike some other writers who have proven unequal to the challenge of their own inventions). There are no missteps here, no unfulfilled promise — just another powerful dose of Aldiss’s (and Helliconia’s) magic.

It may be safely said that last Christmas’s “Dune” movie won few new readers for Frank Herbert’s ecological and political epic — except, perhaps, those looking for explanations. Nonetheless, the series’ many fans will rejoice at the publication of “Chapterhouse: Dune” (Putnam, $17.95). The sixth volume in the 50,000-year history finds the Bene Gesserit and Honored Matres warring for control of the last fragments of Leto’s Old Empire, and for the new desert world taking shape under the Gesserit’s hand.

Bluejay’s publicists compare L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s 1942 novel “The Land of Unreason” ($7.95 trade) to the popular Xanth books by Piers Anthony, not unfairly. Diplomat Fred Barber’s displacement from wartime Britain to the land of Fairy is filled with the same sort of good humor and whimsy (though, mercifully, less punning). Tim Kirk’s delightful drawings add to, rather than merely steal space from, the text of this long-neglected fantasy.


  • Hugo-winner Joan Vinge doesn’t have to do movie novelizations, but if she didn’t, chances are someone far less skillful would get the job. Her “Ladyhawke” (Signet, $3.50) entertainingly retells the story of the Matthew Broderick-Rutger Hauer medieval fantasy.

  • Australia’s A. Bertram Chandler died last summer, which means that “The Wild Ones” (DAW, $2.95) will be the last novel featuring his popular John Grimes character. Though no more ambitious than the other tales of the Rimworlds, “The Wild Ones” delivers just as much page-turning pleasure.

  • Fantasy writers have of late been imprisoned in a straight-jacket composed of equal parts unicorns, wizards, and European history, but with “Bridge of Birds” (Del Rey, $2.95) Barry Hughart breaks free into new territory and a new culture. Billed as “a novel of an ancient China that never was,” Hughart’s charming quest tale is the kind of book friends recommend to friends.

  • Fresh from winning the World Fantasy Award, John M. Ford’s highly-praised historical fantasy “The Dragon Waiting” is available at last in paperback (Avon, $3.50). Set in the Europe of Richard III and Louis XI, it nonetheless portrays an alternate world where magic, not Christianity, holds sway over court life.

  • Active Measures” by Janet Morris and David Drake (Baen, $3.95) offers its readers a chilling near-future espionage tale predicated on the discovery that the President is a Soviet agent. It also offers them a chance to win $10,000 by correctly answering seven questions related to the plot. And you thought you had all the spring chores finished!

— Goshen resident Michael P. Kube-McDowell is the author of EMPRISE, a science-fiction novel to be published in June by Berkley.

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