Bookshelf (Starburst Reviews) Bookshelf compiled by David Howe
• part of Starburst's monthly Reviews section
selected from Starburst #267

Reviews selected this month: two books from prolific Fantasy author Louise Cooper, and another worthy Gollancz classic in Mindbridge

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In this issue's Bookshelf:, the latest genre titles for book lovers, an in-depth interview with Fantasy writer Louise Cooper, Sandy Auden's personal perspective on the BFS's FantasyCon, best seller charts, October's new releases rounded-up, and four more reviews!

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THE SUMMER WITCH by Louise Cooper
Published by Headline Books • 314pp paperback

Louise Cooper's The Summer Witch

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THE SPIRAL GARDEN by Louise Cooper
Published by BFS Publications (3 Tamworth Close, Lower Earley, Reading, RG6 4EQ) • 117pp £5.99 p/b (+50p p&p, in UK)

‘Cooper writes superbly, vividly evoking the countryside in all its seasons, and bringing her characters convincingly to life’

Novels and short stories are very different, and some authors can successfully write one but not the other. With her latest publications – a dark fantasy novel and a short story collection – Louise Cooper demonstrates she is equally accomplished at both.

In The Summer Witch, a novel (Headline Books), 17-year-old Carys is compelled to wed Jone, a widower older than her father. Initially glad he makes no sexual advances, she soon regrets her enforced celibacy. A trip to a wise woman gives her the means to transform her husband’s scarecrow into a devoted lover. At first the mysterious ‘Robin’ is all Carys could wish for, though he can’t appear in daylight or enter her house. Soon, however, she grows tired of such restrictions and yearns for more. With Robin’s help, Carys becomes a powerful wise woman, but her unruly passions lead her from ‘white’ witchcraft into something more dubious …

The Spiral Garden has been published by the British Fantasy Society and contains five stories. ‘The Birthday Battle’ is a whimsical ‘talking animal’ fairy tale with a moral; the other stories are more darkly fantastic. Here are tales of desperate Queens imprisoned and kept pregnant by their paranoid husbands (‘The Spiral Garden’), of obsessive lovers who stalk their prey beyond death (‘His True and Only Wife’), and of dysfunctional drifters who seem doomed to cause their lovers’ deaths (‘Cry’). And the Cornish Tourist Board won’t be any too pleased with the one previously unpublished tale, ‘St Gumper’s Feast’ which features a sunny secluded beach, and some very macabre sunbathers.

In both books, Cooper writes superbly, vividly evoking the countryside in all its seasons, and bringing her characters convincingly to life. A favourite theme seems to be the power imbalance between the sexes – her ill-treated women may eventually wrest power from their men, but it comes at a high price.

Starburst rating: 9 / 10
Barbara Davies

by Joe Haldeman
Published by Gollancz • 185 pp £9.99 p/b

Joe Haldeman's classic Mindbridge

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‘What makes Mindbridge such an exemplary hard-SF book, however, is not the science but the courage of the planet Tamers hurled into deep space...'

Remember how genre books used to be in the days before the trilogy and the overwritten doorstep epic became the standard form, to the detriment of both SF and the rainforests? Joe Haldeman’s Mindbridge is a short but very imaginative novel from that lost era when publishers didn’t demand a minimum of a quarter million words for a story that could be told just as well, if not better, in less than 200 pages.

The accidental invention of interstellar teleportation opens up the galaxy for humans to explore, but there’s a catch. People and objects sent from Earth eventually come back, automatically, and whatever is brought from distant planets returns to its origin in time. The thing that enables permanent colonisation is both unexpected, and tragic for all concerned. Wisely, the Haldeman’s isn’t just about the above. It also involves the discovery of an alien life form that facilitates telepathy between two individuals in direct physical contact. This miracle, too, comes with a heavy price, and results in a series of dramatic incidents on Earth and worlds lightyears away.

Throughout the text, Haldeman uses academic reports, scripts for one-act plays, infotainment extracts, media interviews, technical schedules, graphs and charts, diary entries and correspondence between the main characters to create a keen sense of realism for his imaginary future. All these things really do lend an authenticity to the story that’s hard to ignore, as they read like hard evidence of an improbable first contact scenario.

What makes Mindbridge such an exemplary hard-SF book, however, is not the science but the courage of the planet Tamers hurled into deep space with little or no knowledge of where they will end up or what dangers they may face. Haldeman’s writing captures the spirit of these pioneers without overstating the professional elitism. Here’s to quality over quantity.

Starburst rating: 10 / 10
Tony Lee

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