Review: Captain’s Fury, by Jim Butcher

This is the fourth book in Butcher’s epic fantasy Fury series. Here we follow Tavi and others as they repel the Canim invasion and battle against a rebellious High Lord. There are a fair number of dark deeds done because the alternative was worse, but in the end, good prevails, of a sort.

As for Tavi’s personal journey, he… hmm, this gets hard without getting into spoiler territory. He picks up some new skills and learns some more about his personal history. He continues to kick butt in various ways and inspires a surprising collection of supporters to kick butt for him. And as always, he shows that in a world of dark sorcery and elemental furies, the best weapon is still calm intelligence.

I did enjoy this one quite a bit, though I have to say I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the previous book Cursor’s Fury. The writing was superb, of course, and the characters were compelling. I suspect that this time, however, the plot was not as gripping as the previous one. There was simply too much time spent getting from point A to point B, sometimes plotwise and other times geographically. Thus, when the various plots reached their climax, I felt they were about 100 pages overdue.

Not that this is going to stop me from going after the last two. I’m definitely seeing this one through to the end.

Review: Cursor’s Fury, by Jim Butcher

This is the third book in Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series, and I get the feeling that this is where the story really gets rolling. We learn more about two of the principal political players in the realm, and we learn more about young Tavi’s back-story. We also get a taste for what’s going on in the larger world.

I think what I really liked about this one, however, was seeing Tavi in action. Yes, we got some of that in the first two books, but here is where I think we really see him come into his own. You see, Tavi has never developed his “fury” powers, which are basically a magical mastery of the various elements (fire, earth, water, air, metal, plants, etc.). In that, he’s kind of a powerless freak in an unkind world, but he’s also a very intelligent powerless freak. So here, we finally get to see him use his intelligence to not only overcome his lack of furycrafting, but to outwit and outmaneuver those with much greater abilities.

The book also has some major revelations about both the past and future of the realm. The First Lord is old and without an heir, and this book finally opened up the door on some new possibilities of what is going to happen when the old man finally dies. It left us with a teaser, bordering on a cliffhanger, that has made me eager to get to the next one.

Marriage in SF/F

I attended a wedding last week, and it got me thinking about the institution of marriage in science fiction and fantasy. I frequently run into stalwart captains and noble queens who are single by either choice or tragedy. I also see a number of couples, but I confess I don’t run into all that many marriages, and certainly even fewer weddings. Maybe that only means I’m reading about a bunch of loners, but it does not show up as often as I’d expect.

Still, it’s not entirely absent. There actually are a number of marriages, and while some are the humdrum union of old sweethearts, I’m more interested in the marriages that can only occur in a science fiction or fantasy setting, or at the very least, that won’t happen in our world today.

InterracialMarriageGiven that last week’s wedding was an interracial marriage – my long-time friend is black, and his bride is white – I thought I would start with some similarly mixed marriages. Perhaps the most famous is that of Spock’s parents, his human mother Amanda and his Vulcan father Sarek. Another of my favorites from SF is the union of Babylon 5’s Captain Sheridan and the Minbari Ambassador Delenn. Rather than focusing on their progeny, we got to see the culture clash play out in their courtship. (One word to my fellow Babylon fans: Woohoo!)

SheridenDelennOn the fantasy side, Lord of the Rings had Aragorn marry Arwen with hints of half-elf children in their future. I’ve seen a few human-demon pairings as well as human-vampire pairings, but very few actual weddings. (Sorry, I’m not aware of anything called Twigh Lite.)

These all tend to be humanoid to humanoid pairings. I don’t know if that’s a lack of imagination, a lack of effects/makeup budget, or a simple limit on what parts match up with other parts.

HeinleinFridayThen we get into different kinds of marriage. Heinlein was all over this with both line marriages in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and group marriages in Friday. Some of these were meant to preserve property, while others were simply a raised finger to the institution of monogamous marriage.

I’ve also run into time-delimited marriages from several different authors. C.J. Cherryh’s Ateva, particularly their nobility, marry for reasons of political alliance, and those marriages come and go with shifting loyalties. Kube-McDowell’s Quiet Pools showed me contractual marriage with and without options for child-rearing.

Sharon Shinn’s world of Samaria had angels living amongst humans, but angels were forbidden to marry angels. Instead, angels always married humans, but even then, it was often a more open marriage, particularly for the male angels. You see, an angel-human pairing could produce either human or angel children, but since successful angel births were rare, male angels were spreading their seed far and wide. I’ll let you read the books for the messy details of when the god Jovah would choose the Archangel’s spouse – not always a match made in heaven.

I’ve also run into SF societies that completely divorce, so to speak, marriage from reproduction. The merchants of C.J. Cherry’s Merchanter’s Union did not really marry. The woman would have sex with men from other ships, because their own ship was filled with family. Children were not raised by mother and father. Rather, they were raised by mother and aunts and uncles. The demons in my upcoming Hell Bent have similar family lives for very different reasons.

A world I imagined had a society made more intellectual than emotional by computer implants, and marriages were based on intellectual harmony with no regard to physical or sexual chemistry. Choosing a sexual partner was done via genetic analysis, and potential partners approached the selection with about as much emotion as we would choose a lab partner for class. Child-rearing was quite different, of course, but the implants allowed early intellectual maturity, long before the body reached adulthood.

hivemindsmallNow, if that hasn’t completely detonated the nuclear family, I’ve heard of even stranger arrangements, where the aliens in question were sentient symbiots, so simple pairings were by definition group marriages. Taking it further, there are some fictional races that live in between individual sentience and shared hive minds, so the notion of marriage for love vs. arranged marriage is dropped into the conceptual blender and thoroughly pureed.

These days, marriage is a political hot potato here in the US with the ongoing debate over gay marriage, but I would like to think that in the future we’ll at least be able to talk about marriage without invoking Nazis or the end of civilization. After all, it’s all about finding the symbiotic hive mind of our dreams, right?

So how about the rest of you? What’s the wildest concept of marriage you’ve run into in SF or fantasy?

Alien Timekeeping

funkycalendarI ran into this question in an SF/F group: How do you create an alternate timekeeping and calendar system? I found it interesting because it’s not so much about comparing some local calendar to the one we use here on Earth, but about creating one from scratch. How do we do that?

I figure it goes back to the most basic observable phenomena. The sun rises and sets. Seasons come and go. The moon waxes and wanes. Everything else is just invented units for bookkeeping. So how do we invent that bookkeeping?

Let’s look at the two most important units to primitive time keepers: days and years. These are almost certain to exist in any timekeeping or calendar system. If the people are in anyway diurnal (or their prey or predators are), then they’re going to keep track of days at least to the extent of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. If there is any travel, you are almost certain to make plans to pack provisions for five days rather than merely two days.

Likewise, the coming and going of seasons will affect the migration of game, the availability of certain plants, and the need to hunker down and stay warm vs. escaping the heat of summer, so years will also be tracked in some form, at least to the point of talking about a previous year’s seasons or next year’s season. You might not talk about years specifically, though, since times could be discussed as “three summers ago” or “I have lived through nineteen winters.”

sundialBut what about dividing up the day? The easiest division is day vs. night, but dividing that up into smaller units is somewhat arbitrary. We got out 24-hour clock by an early sundial method of dividing up the day into ten hours of sunlight, plus an hour of twilight at each end. This was mirrored over to night through the tracking of certain stars.

Alas, depending on the time of year, these daylight hours varied in length, with long hours in the summer and short ones in the winter. This variation is fine in more primitive cultures, but once you start developing physics, you need a constant time measurement for talking about things like velocity and acceleration. So, sooner or later, that evolving society is going to have to nail down those hours into something rigid.

But ultimately the number of hours per day or the number of minutes/seconds/etc. is completely arbitrary. A metric division of time would be swell, but I’d have to question whether your timekeepers were that logical early enough to make it stick, rather than having sixteen hours a day because the gods willed it. The actual divisions could come from mythology to something as simple as counting the appendages on your alien or fantastical species.

As for the year, it is already naturally divided into days, but we seem to be primed to group them up into intermediate divisions like weeks and months. Certainly some of this is astronomical, and some of it is mythological, but a larger issue is that we have a hard time grasping bigger numbers at an emotional level. At some point, the distinction between 153 vs. 212 is lost on us while we can feel the difference between May and July in our guts. It’s hard to say for sure what an alien or truly fantastical brain is going to handle, but if their sense of time evolved along with spears and rocks, then it’s not going to have a lot of abstract math. And so we probably need at least some divisions.

moon_phases_diagramThe origin of our month comes from the more primitive cultures that tracked the passage time by the phases of the moon. This is believed to go back to stone age, but depending on how you want to observe it, there are several different ways to measure the moon’s orbit. Do you go by the phases, or do you see when it returns to the constellation of the squid? And what if you have two moons? Does one take precedence over the other? Or do you derive some time unit based on when the closer one eclipses the outer one? If there are three or more, do you look for some kind of regular alignment in their orbital rhythms? If there is no moon, there will probably be at least some demarcations of the seasons via the solstices and equinoxes.

Our seven day week is somewhat arbitrary and has as diverse origins as the Jewish creation story in Genesis and the astronomical observation of seven bodies that move through the sky (the sun, the moon, and five visible planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn). Various cultures have run on weeks ranging from three to ten days, and it’s probably as much the luck of history as it could be some seven-favoring internal wiring that caused us to end up with a seven day week.

But if you really want to go wild, consider some much stranger settings. Think about a species that lives entirely underground in caverns. There is no sky, so there is no day and night, no lunar months, not even solstices to mark the passing of the seasons and years. What do you have then? Is there an underground river that floods based on the seasons above? Is there a consistent geyser like Yellowstone’s “Old Faithful”.

Or think about a small ringworld, but instead of spanning an entire orbit like Niven’s Ringworld, make it only several thousand kilometers across and spinning around for gravity as it makes its ways around the local star. If its plane of rotation is tilted out of its orbital plane, it will still have seasons, but instead of the seasonal cycle taking the entire orbit as it does for Earth, they’ll have two sets of seasons per orbit. Consider a calendar with a first and second summers.

But, and this is a big one, I don’t like it when writers mess around with the calendar in a lame attempt to remind that we’re not in Kansas anymore. Certainly, I don’t require every epic fantasy to use the Gregorian calendar, but I remember the disaster of the original Battlestar Galactica’s use of “yarons” and “centons” for time keeping. It was overdone yet added nothing to the story. So if you’re going to mess around with the calendar, please have a good reason for it, please keep it in the background as much as possible.

Review: Academ’s Fury, by Jim Butcher

This is the second in the six-book Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher. While this is the first Butcher book I’ve reviewed for this blog, I’ve mentioned before how good I think he is. And yet, the first book of the series, “Furies of Calderon”, left me flat. This one was much better.

Mostly it came down to pacing and already being past the world-building. The events in this one seemed to come much faster, and instead of struggling to understand how the people interacted with their elemental spirits (aka their “furies”), I was able to simply accept it and move on. Also, this one simply felt tighter with fewer extraneous threads pulling me in different directions. I imagine by the time we get to the end, all of those loose threads from the first book will be important, but I’m glad that for this one, we didn’t need to keep up with them.

So, this one mostly focused on battling a nasty spider-like monster that was spreading forth from the nest we saw in the first book, as it spread out, sending its children forth to multiply. It proved quite nasty and its particular powers were pretty squicky – not I-stepped-on-something squicky but please-kill-me-before-the-alien-impregnates-me squicky.

In and around the monster battles, political intrigue advanced, secrets were revealed, and several characters made some hard choices that I suspect they will later regret. Specifically, there was one of those “for want of a nail the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe the horse was lost…” things that probably won’t reach the level of losing battles and wars until book five, but it’s troubling to see that chain of loss start.

Anyway, it probably took me two years after reading Furies of Calderon to give this series another shot, but now that it’s picking up, I’ll probably be back before long.

Review: Angel Seeker, by Sharon Shinn

This was the fifth and final book in Shinn’s Samaria series. It’s not that it reached any definitive conclusion to the series, just that it was the last one written and that the author has said she has no plans to write more of them.

I enjoyed it. It seemed to have a bit of a political message, but it was one I agree with.

All of these Samaria books are interesting blends of SF, fantasy, and romance. The SF bit is that we’re living in a world that is specifically not Earth but a distant colony of Earth in some equally distant future. The fantasy bit is that we’re living in a world with angels living amongst the mortals of the world, and there is no doubt about the reality of Jovah, their god. They can sing prayers and get results, anything from manna falling from the heavens to lightning bolts blasting at the desired target. And the romance… well, in some ways I would say that they are all romance books merely set in an odd SF/fantasy world.

This book has two romances. The first is between an ambitious girl and… well, I won’t say with whom. She is determined to marry an angel and give birth to an angel child. I won’t say whether or not she succeeds, but I will say that her romance is more about finding herself than whether or not she actually marries an angel. I enjoyed this one quite a bit, mostly for her character arc.

The second romance was between an angel and a young Jansai girl. The Jansai are one of the many cultures populating the world of Samaria, and they seem to be remarkably similar to certain Earth cultures, particularly in how they treat their women. They treat their women as cherished property, but they can also be quite vicious to their women if they step outside their defined roles. And sexual promiscuity pretty much carries the death penalty, i.e. stoning and exile to the lifeless desert.

Anyway, this second romance dealt a lot with the politics around that kind of culture. Many or most of the men seem to be quite happy to hand out these harsh punishments. Some are disgusted by it but seem powerless to stop the overall harshness. The women are mixed between those who support it simply because it’s what they know, those who hate it but find can only fight it in tiny rebellions, and those who would flagrantly flaunt the law of their male masters.

Shinn ultimately comes down hard on this culture, so there is some politics here, but like I said, I agree with her position. As for the romance, I mostly found myself shouting at the young Jansai girl to get out while the getting is good, but I confess that seeing her reluctance to leave the only world she knew gave me some insight into how many women on Earth tolerate or even reinforce these cultures here on Earth. So while parts of it made my skin crawl, it did expand my horizons.

Now, that’s all about how I liked the book for what it was. However, I do have a little complaint about what the book wasn’t, and that’s no fault of the book. What bugged me was where it fell in the Samarian timeline.

The first three books in this series proceeded along in chronological order. Then the fourth book jumped to a time long before the first, and then this one was just after the first. That would be all right except that the third book – the furthest along in the timeline – kind of ended on a cliffhanger. There had been some major change in the world, and I was left wondering what was going to happen next. After two more books, I still don’t know because nothing has been written in the time after the third book, and from the sounds of it, nothing will be.

As such, the series feels unfinished to me. I don’t know if the publisher just gave up on it, or if the author herself doesn’t know what comes next. Either way, I’m cranky that I never quite got a sense of resolution to this series.

Review: The Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, by Elizabeth Moon

I picked this one up because my wife recommended it. She said, “It saved fantasy for me.” That was high praise, but I can see now that it was worth it. I am also tempted to say that it saved fantasy for me, but I’m not sure I’ll find much else like it.

I do enjoy Urban Fantasy, but I confess I’ve never really enjoyed much traditional fantasy, i.e. epic sword and sorcercy, though I could never quite put my finger on it. The best I could say was that, “I just couldn’t get into it.” I figured that the genre simply was not for me, and I stuck to my science fiction.

After reading this book, I think I figured out my problem with most fantasy. It’s the long expository openings setting the scene and showing off all the world-building the author has done. I can’t really blame most of these authors, because this seems to be The Way It Is Done, in a mold set first perhaps by Tolkien himself.

Well, with all deference the old master, this usually bores me to death. It’s the kingdom of Blahdyblay, ruled by the Lords of Nuchinsuch since the ancient days of Dear-God-my-eyes-are-bleeding! We’re usually seven or eight pages in before anything actually happens, except in rare cases, where we start with some brief excitement, only to be followed by page after page of exposition. Look, I’ll give you the One True Ring if you’ll just shut up about the damned jibbenweed smoke for five minutes!

Sheepfarmer’s Daughter does not suffer from this problem. Admittedly, it starts with a now unfashionable prologue, but even then, it introduces a mystery. Then, chapter one starts with our protagonist, Paks, doing stuff. She’s in a struggle and is making a change in her life. She’s already five steps into the mythical Hero’s Journey, and she’s just getting started.

Yes, the book shows signs of quite a bit of world-building. There are old alliances, gods and saints, raging ogres, fallen kingdoms, and so forth, but it doesn’t come in a front-loaded infodump. Instead, it is revealed to us through the eyes of an wide-eyed foot soldier, one muddy step at a time. The narrator doesn’t tell us about the southern farm lands, the impenetrable fortress, or the honorable allies. Instead, Paks marches through them, butts up against them, and fights alongside them. We don’t so much see the world as we feel it.

Beyond that, the story is good, and it is both gritty and noble. People die, Paks gets hurt. Wounds heal slowly, and scars accumulate. But honor is upheld, and despite all the setbacks and painful losses along the way, the good guys win in the end. Since it’s also the first book in a trilogy, I should also say that powerful forces are at work in the world, and we see them moving slowly and at oblique angles. I don’t yet know where they’re going, but I can see that they’re going to pull Paks deeper into the crucible and explain the mystery that was laid out in that prologue.

So, it was very good – beyond five stars. It’s the first of a trilogy, so I’m looking forward to diving into them, even though they’re each about 500 pages long. And what’s more, Elizabeth Moon has returned to this world after several years, so even after I finish this trilogy, there will be more waiting for me. I’m tempted to dive in headfirst, but I think I’ll stretch it out a bit and savor this one for the next year or two.

Better Sequels

Usually sequels don’t live up to the original, but sometimes they surpass it. I was talking to a friend recently, trying to come up with a list of them, but it was hard. What made it harder was that I wanted to limit it to SF/F genre films. We came up with three, and I found a few more. We also found several that were debateable or didn’t quite make it. Here we go:

The Winners:

The Empire Strikes Back: This one is so often quoted as the declining-sequel rule breaker that it has to go on the list, and I think it really does deserve it. As much as I loved Star Wars as a kid, Empire turned the franchise – ever so briefly – into more serious adult fare.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: This one gets in easily, not only because it was a great film, but because the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture was so limp that it’s a miracle this one was ever made. In my not so humble opinion, this film saved the franchise.

Star Trek: First Contact: I was tempted to knock this one out, because it’s not technically a sequel as much as it’s the next installment in an ongoing series. However, I can buy the argument that Star Trek: Generations started off a new film sequence, and that let’s this one in. So, while Generations tried to do far too much and didn’t pull much of it off, First Contact focused on one thing: stopping the Borg from destroying our history. It had a tight story, cool characters, and plus… you know… THE BORG!

Road Warrior: Some people don’t even realize this is a sequel, but the original Mad Max was an Australian blockbuster. I love it – and would love it even more without the terrible dubbing job – but I have to say that Road Warrior has a better style, better car chases, and a better plot.

Aliens: My friend argued against this one, not because he thought the original Alien was better but because they were so different as to almost be different genres. Alien is a walk through a dark alley, almost a horror film, while Aliens is a military-action rollercoaster. But I think they’re close enough that I’m going to include it.

Now on the many Honorable Mentions:

For a Few Dollars More: This is well outside the bounds by genre since it’s a western. It’s also questionable whether it’s even a sequel to Fistful of Dollars. However, it is the second in what most folks refer to as “the Man with No Name” trilogy that ends with the classic The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. In some ways, this one was the high point of the trilogy for me, and Clint Eastwood almost played second fiddle to Lee Van Cleef’s search for long-delayed justice for a very personal crime. If you’re a fan of gun-fighting westerns, you need to see this one.

The Four Musketeers: This is historical fiction as opposed to SF/F fiction, but the main reason I don’t like seeing it on lists of great sequels is that it’s not really a sequel. It’s the second half of the Three Musketeers movie that was released the year before. The director shot so much film that he decided to break it up, leaving quite the legal mess for the film industry to sort out in contract law for generations to come. However, all that aside, this is a fabulous film, and this pair of Musketeer films (with a young Michael York) is in my opinion the best of all the Musketeer tellings.

Kill Bill, Vol 2: This one also shows up on great sequel lists, but I also don’t think it belongs for the same reason that The Four Musketeers didn’t belong. It’s not a sequel.  It’s the second half of the film, and of course it’s better than “the original”. It has the climax, you dummy. But yeah, great film. The first one ripped out your carotid in a nasty arterial spray, but the second one grabbed on tight and yanked your heart out through your severed neck. Ok, not that bloody, but you get the idea.

Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight: I think that both of these sequels were better than the originals, but despite all the fancy weapons and cool gadgets, I don’t consider comic movies to be either science fiction or fantasy. I think they’re their own genre like horror or mystery.

Toy Story 2: The original was awesome, but this sequel knocked it out of the park. I just don’t think it qualifies as SF/F.

Terminator 2: My friend lobbied hard for this one, but personally, I think the original is still the best of the series. Yes, the second one had better effects and a pretty good story, but the original one hangs together so much better and has that wonderful bittersweet romance.

Superman 2: Some people rate this one as being better than the original, and given the stupid fly-around-the-earth-backwards time travel in the first film, I can see their argument. However, the people making this argument are usually referring to the Donner cut of the film rather than the theatrical release, and I haven’t seen the Donner cut. If I do, I might join their camp, but in the meantime, I’m sticking with the origin-heavy original.  But yeah, it’s still comic, not SF.

So, what great sequels did I miss? What about book sequels instead of movie sequels? Or for that matter, does this make you think of any terrible sequels? I’ve got half a mind to follow this up with a list of sequels so bad that they don’t officially exist, e.g. Highlander II or Star Trek V.

Review: Avalon Revisited, by O.M. Grey

I originally checked this one out because I knew the author through a mutual friend and because I was curious to read some steampunk:

This is another one where I have to throw out a disclaimer or two. First, I now know the author, and I think she’s a great person, so there might be a little personal bias here. Second, the only other steampunk I’d read before this was The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife, so I’m no expert on the steampunk genre.

Now, having said all that, I had a lot of fun with this book. The premise is that there’s a vampire in London in the steampunk Victorian era of the 1800’s, but rather than just blithely hunting down his next victim, he falls prey to a weakness he thought he had purged in his first life: love. Yep, he falls in love with a remarkable woman, and of course, this woman wants nothing to do with him.

That, by itself, might not have been enough to pull me along, but this particular vampire is no ordinary undead charmer. No, he’s the older brother of wife-decapitating Henry VIII. Now, Henry and his six wives are long-dead by the time this story rolls around, but his older brother Arthur is still around and sucking blood. Having just watched The Tudors last year, this was an amazing twist, because in addition to dealing with his current life in London, Arthur has plenty of fresh reasons to ruminate on the aftermath of his original death.

On top of that, the writing was good, I cared about the characters, and the plot twists were surprising without being completely out of left field. It also had some pretty sexy passages as well. It wasn’t quite one-handed reading material, but I will say this: I read two of the sexier bits in bed with company… with very pleasant results.

So, this one gets the thumbs up. If vampires, steampunk, or the Tudor dynasty are your thing, give it a look.

Fictional Taxes

It’s tax time here in the USA. We think of it as the time we pay our taxes, though it’s truly more of a reckoning, when we look at how much taxes we’ve been paying all year and see whether or not we owe any more. Most of us overpay along the way and look forward to getting a few hundred dollars back. It’s a nice reward to make up for the anxiety of multiplying line 52 of schedule H by line 19b of worksheet 1062-ASSRAPE.

But what about taxes in our fiction? As much as we complain about them in real life, you’d think they’d make a regular appearance in our fiction, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen Harry Dresden fill out his 1040. And come to think of it, I’ve never seen Captain Picard ask for an extension due to unforeseen Borg complications. Did magic and nanotechnology simply make taxes disappear? If so, I’m getting a blasting rod until the future arrives.

More likely this is one of those bits of reality that we just don’t want to see in our escapist fantasies. Just as Kirk never complained to McCoy about his irritable bowel syndrome, we also never had to hear him wondering which of his bastard children he was getting to count as an exemption. We’re trying to escape from our dreary reality filled with perverse directions such as “add stool sample to line 9b”. We don’t need it leaping off the pages armed with alien financial probes. We gave at the office.

But still, where is the Federation getting its money from? And don’t give me that crap of “we’ve advanced beyond such concerns as money.” That and a gram of gold-pressed latinum will get you a cup of coffee. There’s got to be someone paying for all this, and I guarantee at least a few of them aren’t holodeck-happy about it.

Other authors/series have done better. I remember that a lot of Babylon 5’s operating budget came from docking fees. David Weber’s Manticore crown paid for its massive fleet and bureaucracy via transit fees on the wormhole network it controlled. Both Elizabeth Moon’s and C.J. Cherryh’s mechant-heavy space operas paid heed to such things as import taxes and transit fees.

But rarely do I see taxes used as a source of conflict, and that does seem odd. The Romans taxed their conquered territories punitively. Both the American and French revolutions of the late 1700’s were ostensibly tax revolts. And anyone watching American politics in the last thirty years knows that taxes are always up in the top five topics being debated.

Maybe it’s hard to find high drama in the Laffer curve or in means-tested deduction phase-outs, but then again, they put Al Capone away not for murder but for income tax evasion. Perhaps a little tax conflict could be good for the story after all.

Or is it more common than I think? Have I had my head buried in tax-free utopias?