John Barnes is best known as a writer of hard SF, but here he turns his hand to fantasy. Or rather, to fairy tale. And very well he does so, too.
What do I mean, not fantasy, but fairy tale? Well, in most of the contemporary "sword and sorcery" fantasy genre it seems that the inhabitants, intended to be real people, react to their magic the same way we react to our technology -- magic is usually matter-of-fact, almost "mundane", even when overwhelmingly powerful. In fairy tales, however, there is something truly "magical" going on, and the characters, usually stock placeholders such as "prince on a quest" or "princess in disguise", can even know that this is the case. They certainly do so in One for the Morning Glory:
I got a similar feeling of being in a fairy tale from One for the Morning Glory as I did from, say, William Goldman's The Princess Bride, or Marjorie Phillips' Annabel and Bryony (although rather darker). You won't find deep characterisation here, or any bloodily realistic descriptions of battles and dark magical ceremonies, but you will find wit, and charm, leavened with darkness, and over all, a magical quality.
A good selection of short stories and essays, ranging from very early attempts to more recent offerings. The stories I liked best are "Restricted to the Necessary" and "Empty Sky". And these are in some sense showing worlds much further from our own than the others do. Which fits in with my lack of enthusiasm for post-apocalyptic tales. Especially ones where the viewpoint country has become a Fundamentalist dictatorship (a recurring theme). Too close to a terrifying possibility to be fun to read, I suppose.
The girl: Susan Tervaille, 16-year-old daughter of a famous actor.
The guy: Derlock Slabilis, 16-year-old son of the most famous media lawyer on the planet.
The problem: No children of celebrities can inherit their parents’ money unless they earn the rank of professional celebrity, too.
The Solution: Stow away (with their friends) on a Mars-bound ship. The publicity will cement their fame and futures.
The real problem: Derlock is a sociopath.
"rites of passage" in an asteroid colony
But other forces are rising too—forces that like the new life better…
In a devastated, splintered, postapocalyptic United States, with technology thrown back to biplanes, black powder, and steam trains, a tiny band of visionaries struggles to re-create Constitutional government and civilization itself, as a new Dark Age takes shape around them.
Jak Jinnaka is a typical teenage boy growing up in the Hive space colony, more interested in girls than school. But when his girlfriend is kidnapped in front of his eyes, he discovers he has been brought up as a secret agent by his mysterious uncle, and is given the task of rescuing her. But he's still more interested in girls than in being a secret agent.
This is a Heinlein-esque juvenile, with lots of action, lots of showing how to be a responsible crew member on a space ship, lots of how to face death bravely, quite a bit of infodumping, and lots more action. It's an interesting world, but Jak is an irritating character who seems to react the way the plot demands it -- serious crew member when it's time for the lectures about responsibility, and hormone-driven teenager when it's time for the sex scenes (it's an updated Heinlein-esque juvenile). But the world building and action are engaging enough that I'll be taking a look at the sequels.
(diverse human cultures; nanotechnology)