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Cybernetic Jungle by S N Lewitt

Ace, 1992, p.

This has an unusual setting for a piece of Science Fiction written by a USian author; Brazil, specifically Brasilia. In the aftermath of a natural disaster democracy has been overthrown (this is represented as unusual for Brazil!) and society is dominated by four monopolies called fazendas, who are the only purveyors of drugs from the rain forest. Street gangs dominate life for the common people. Drugs called phrines, which seem to sharpen the mind, are common but can lead to brain burn out.

Paulo Sylvia is a member of the Bakunin gang. He has an implant known as a secondary but his greatest wish is to upgrade this to be able to access something known as the Wave, which is here described as “a datastream, a quantum-level interface structure that had been created to serve the needs of the masters. Only it had become the master.” (It reads as if it’s a hazy sort of internet only accessed through the mind but as described it seems a diffuse kind of experience.) On a raid on behalf of one of the fazendas he witnesses a girl die. Very soon after he meets Zaide Soledad, who looks identical to the dead girl and intrigues him. She is a trainee in one of the fazendas, out on the town. When they meet she is not yet surgically prepared for accessing the Wave and her true background is not known to Paulo.

Young members of the fazenda seem to be produced as kinds of clones – hence Zaide’s resemblance to the dead girl, who was apparently rejected for the fazenda. Zaide becomes drawn into a contest with one of the fazenda’s board members, Julio Simon, who has no redeeming features whatsoever and a predilection for gratuitous violence. Paulo and Zaide’s attraction to each other provides the motor for the plot and their conflict with Simon.

This is a tale with cyberpunk features and, with its main characters’ divergent backgrounds, echoes of Romeo and Juliet. Apart from the unnecessarily violent scene with Simon I quite enjoyed it.

Pedant’s corner:- “now the third generation were growing in jam jars in the closet” (the third generation was growing,) highjackers (hijackers,) “most of the other traffic was cycle or motoped” (why not just moped?) Vasco de Gama (Vasco da Gama,) Flumine (Fluminense,) Corintans (Corinthians,) fer-de-lants (fer-de-lance,) ambiance (ambience,) “in their green and whites” (in their green and white.) “Zaide didn’t looked at Susana” (didn’t look at.)

Cyberstealth by S N Lewitt

Ace, 1989, 236 p.

The hero of this novel has taken the name Cargo. He is a veteran of the conflict between the Collegium and its breakaway republic Cardia, flying spacecraft called Kraits in the interstellar medium known as exo. Military personnel refer to such flying as “dancing vac.” Cargo wishes to change to the new batwings, silent stealthcraft made for slipping unnoticed from exo to sky.

As part of a ship’s personnel and because they are able to access different aspects of the maze – a kind of computer reality helping to direct a ship’s movements – aliens called Akhaid partner human pilots. Cargo’s Akhaid partner is named Ghoster.

A protégé of the well-known Bishop Mirabeau, Cargo is suspect, not least to his new batwing group’s CO, Commander Fourways. The fact that in one of his Krait sorties Cargo’s friend Two Bits was killed (went to the Wall) and that Cargo was investigated regarding the circumstances doesn’t help, nor does the fact of his birthplace in Cardia territory.

Secretly the Bishop wishes to broker peace between the Collegium and Cardia but there are obstacles to this. Not least the probable presence of a spy in Cargo’s group. An expedition into Cardia space makes it evident that Cardia has a craft similar to the batwing. Given Cargo’s background he is part of the company delegated to land on Marcander to steal it. The eventual success of this mission and that Cargo can fly the thing means that Cardia’s batwing has the same design as the Collegium’s. The identity of the actual spy (or spies!) I’ll leave to other readers.

One strange aspect of this book is that Lewitt has given Cargo Gypsy/Romany heritage. While she acknowledges the prejudice his people suffer from (even in this 1989 future) she still portrays them in general as thieves, which reads oddly these days.

Cyberstealth is a pretty standard piece of military SF but I have enjoyed previous books by Lewitt more than this one and I can’t quite put my finger on why unless it was that there was a fair bit of exposition and information dumping.

Pedant’s corner:- cheepo (cheapo,) “‘Didn’t like if at all’” (like it at all,) “‘We were pulling more gees than I want to remember’” (in space, can you pull gees?) Fourways’ (many times. Fourways is a person; Fourways’s,) “had made their presence know” (known,) “credited others as being s guileless as himself” (credited others with being as guileless,) Marcus Arelis’ (Marcus Aurelius, and the possessive should be s’s,) disection (dissection,) “the footpaths lead past” (led past,) “serious breech in security” (breach,) “there were no separation of any kind” (there was no separation,) “hung herself” (hanged,) anomolies (anomalies: and later, anomoly [anomaly],) “to work out the principals of “ (principles of,) “with it’s heavy carved furniture” (its,) hiccoughs (hiccups,) “took the annies for Cargo’s hand” (took the annies from Cargo’s hand,) maleable (malleable,) “he couldn’t spend anymore [time] being idle” (spend any more,) “the Cardia formation was going lose” (loose?) “where the images of Ste Maries-de-la-Mer was imprinted in his palm” (where the image,) “in the vague hopes” (hope.)

Blind Justice by S N Lewitt

Ace, 1991, 269 p.

Émile Saint-Just is a member of the Syndicat of the planet Beau Solis, the last bastion of French speaking culture. The mark of Syndicat membership is the cuff, worn round the wrist, binding its wearer to the group. Beau Solis is also the sole producer of sadece senin, a drug highly prized throughout the human worlds but subject to strict controls and taxes by the Justica, a polity somewhat sketchily delineated here but said to be uniform and rule bound and which seems to dominate the rest of human civilisation. Selling sadece senin is a lucrative business for the Syndicat, especially if the regulations and taxes of the Justica can be avoided.

Saint-Just takes a place on the Mary Damned, a spaceship running sadece for the Syndicat between the patrols of the Justica. These are relativistic journeys. When Saint-Just gets back no-one on Beau Solis will remember him. But he doesn’t get back. The Mary Damned is captured with no resistance, since Justica operatives flood it with a soporific gas. When Émile wakes up, sans cuff, he is on a Justica prison ship, the Constanza. The Mary Damned becomes a famous ghost ship, drifting through the spaceways.

Life on the Constanza, as in any prison, is tough but Émile has a few allies and they hatch a plan to escape, but the group splits into two, one of which plans to rendezvous with the Mary Damned. (Outside the prison time has flown.)

It is a very different Beau Solis to which Émile returns. The Justica has taken control and is eliminating as much sadece senin as it can. Émile’s lack of cuff means he is no longer recognized as a Syndicat member and he is thrown onto his own resources and those of the latent resistance, whose project takes up the remaining half of the book.

Reading a thirty-year-old Science Fiction novel can be a jolting experience. Noticeable to a 2021 audience is the importance of newspapers in Beau Solis. (Nothing dates as quickly as the future. Think of all those redundant flashing lights on the computer panels in the original Star Trek or Arthur Clarke’s journalist taking a typewriter along with him to the Red Planet in The Sands of Mars.) This is not Lewitt’s fault. There is only so much invention an author can put into an SF book. And we all have unexamined assumptions about what may be constant in our world. Her storytelling and characterisation make up for any such minor irritations. This is good solid readable SF.

Pedant’s corner:- Académie Français (since Académie is a feminine noun that should be ‘Académie Française’,) tsunumi (tsunami,) spit (spat,) “and he didn’t; understand at first why” (no need for that semi-colon,) “everyone can grown sadece” (can grow,) crosier (crozier,) Reims (Rheims,) “the group grew in size as they made their way” (as it made its way,) “it seemed that none of the them were” (no ‘the’,) good-by (goodbye.)

White Wing by Gordon Kendall

Sphere, 1986, 312 p.

Gordon Kendall is a pseudonym used – for one book only – by S N Lewitt (Shariann Lewitt) no doubt for the same reason female writers have always used male pen names. The Internet Speculative Fiction Database says the book was a collaboration with Susan Shwartz.

Humans are in a war against the Sej. Earth has been destroyed and the remnants of its population forced to take refuge on other human worlds of the League, where they are seen as largely second-class citizens and subject to prejudice. Earthers’ military arm, it has to be said, does not help in this regard. Except in their own company its members keep their emotions to themselves, presenting an unflinching, unemotive face to the worlds at large, only ever expressing their feelings in private. The League’s armed forces are split up into Wings, each with its own designated colour. The White Wing of the title is the Earther Wing, trained up on Wing Moon, a world given to them begrudgingly by the League. Their unit of battle is typically, though not always, made up of groups of seven. These are tight knit contingents, living and fighting together, joined in a contract they call marriage. Never has a member of White Wing been captured by the Sej. If any of them is in danger of that (and the subsequent maltreatment the Sej will no doubt administer) they are granted what is called the Mercy. In other words their own unit will kill them in order to prevent it. This happens to squad member Maryam in chapter two and makes pilot Gregory, who committed the deed, almost a pariah among the other Wings.

Squad Comm officer Suzannah has an eidetic memory. Her chief in League Security, Federico Hashrahh Kroeger, is another eidetic, keen to capture as much data about Earthers as he can. The plot revolves around the gap Maryam’s death has left in the squad, the solo pilot Dustin who may in the end become her replacement, Sej spies called Bikmat and Aglo, a Sej drug named hathoti, and a rabble-rousing politician, Ag Kolatolo, eager to exploit and amplify anti-Earther attutudes. The novel’s resolution is perhaps a bit too optimistic about how easily prejudice in public life can be overcome.

The book is a fairly typical SF tale of its time. Of military SF at any time. There are sufficient battle scenes and intrigue to satisfy adherents of the form but there is more of a tendency towards describing the interactions between, and thoughts of, the characters than most of its male purveyors tend to provide.

Pedant’s corner:- epicantic (epicanthic,) Gus’ (Gus’s,) Charles’ (Charles’s.) “None of them were” (was,) eidectics (eidetic,) neutrino (neutrino – spelled correctly elsewhere,) forseeable (foreseeable.) “A phalanx of Reds were closing in” (a phalanx … was closing in,) hanger (hangar– spelled correctly elsewhere, except for Hanger Deck,) “‘when she’d off duty’” (when she’s off duty.) “‘You said ‘us’ Federico,’” (to which he assents. He actually said ‘we’.)

Angel at Apogee by S N Lewitt

Berkley, 1987, 221 p.

 Angel at Apogee cover

Gaelian is the eldest of the eldest of the YnTourne family and thus in line to inherit all its privileges, including a seat on the board which runs life on Dinoreos and its dependencies, Adedri and Cahaute. She is also the hottest graduate of her military flying school; the only one always able to land her spaceship on a dit. This last is whence her nickname, Angel, derives. Dinoreos is a thoroughthly class-ridden polity trained up on and bound by the pastime of nerris, a combat sport once a deadly endeavour but now mainly ceremonial. All aspects of Dinorean life are threaded through with the tactics of nerris. As part of Gaelian’s inheritance, for dynastic and political reasons she is engaged to Teazerin YnSetti, an adept in the sporting aspects of nerris.

However, Gaelian spent most of her early life on Cahaute, where her father had been sent on diplomatic business. This, along with her appearance, has led to suspicions she is not wholly aristocratic, that her mother may have been one of Cahaute’s natives. Her father has always warned her to stand up for her rights and to assert that any genetic test would be passed easily. Gaelian knows the truth though and still feels the influence of Cahaute’s Power Clans within her. Her father’s conscience has led to him becoming a drunkard, both unsuitable and unwilling to take over as Head of household when Gaelian’s grandmother dies. The setting is here for a power struggle between Gaelian and her cousin Dobrin, eager to take on the leadership role himself, and who knows he has the Board’s backing, with the possibility of Gaelian’s background being exposed.

To her credit and much more interestingly, Lewitt takes a different tack though. The inheritance crisis is soon upon Gaelian but due to Dobrin’s honourable behaviour and her realisation that her primary wish is to be a pilot she agrees to stand down in his favour (with the proviso that her engagement to Teazerin is dissolved.) Even here we could have ended up with a standard military SF type plot but on her very first real mission (to Adedri) Gaelian’s ship is outpaced and out-manœuvred and she disappears, presumed dead.

On occasion up to then we have been given snippets of life on Cahaute and its belief systems (which seem very much to be derived from Native American customs.) Attention now focuses mainly on the situation on Cahaute, to where Teazerin has been posted and where he exerts a large degree of influence on the base and its actions, and the plans of Gaelian’s captor, Nomis, on Adedri, while occasionally switching back to machinations on Dinoreos. The wisdom and knowledge of the Power Clans are crucial to the unfolding of the subsequent events on Cahaute. In keeping with the preceding chapters the plot’s resolution is also very much against the usual run of SF novels.

Pedant’s corner:- “to betroth her” (betrothe.) “None of them were in use” (None of them was in use.) “He didn’t try follow it” (to follow it,) a pair of end direct speech marks without a preceding opening pair, publically (publicly,) “as she tried to lay down” (lie down,) “did not enter the ledge” (the lodge.)

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