The Cusanus Game: Tor, English translation September 2013; originally published in 2005 in Germany; 538 pages; translator: Ross Benjamin. Wolfgang Jeschle was a German science fiction writer who also wrote Last Day of Creation. The Cusanus Game overpowered The God Tattoo by Tom Lloyd to get into the second round.
The prologue in The Cusanus Game takes us back to 1425. Caravan leader Emilio and one of his guards Bakhtir discover that four of their men had tried to leave the caravan by crossing through the "repellers," which create the border between the past and future. Bakhtir is upset because one of the men who died during this attempt was his son.
The caravan brings supplies for an airship, which arrives periodically from the mid twenty-first century. Emilio and Bakhtir meet a holographic man who isn't really there but can communicate while exchanging goods. Distraught, Bakhtir attempts to kill the future man, resulting in the hasty departure of the airship. Emilio and Bakhtir barely escape.
The first chapter begins in mid twenty-first century Italy where Domenica lives in a war-ravaged town, with the factions still fighting. Domenica relives memories from her past, as she tries to survive the brutal life after nuclear catastrophe in Europe.
A year ago, Domenica's boyfriend Bernd was handsome, but flawed. Entertainment in the city was brutal and cruel: one show included barbaric sex on stage. Domenica felt disgusted, but Bernd seemed entranced. She decided their relationship is over.
War caused trauma seems to be everywhere, from creatures to landscape. CarlAntonio are Siamese twins, with Carl riding like a backpack behind Antonio. Stavros, fellow tenant of Domenica, has a prosthetic tongue — his was cut out while in captivity during the war. A modified military dog was dying from the inside out due to self-destructing implants.
Domenica remembers a conversation that happened a year earlier when she was out together with Bernd, his sister Birgit, and CarlAntonio. Birgit and CarlAntonio said they saw someone who looked just like Domenica, like an older twin. CarlAntonio also gave Domenica an envelope from the university.
Domenica recalls how CarlAntonio died. A racist group called the Hobbits, who wear lederhosen and call themselves the "guardians of the genetic inheritance," go around killing mutants with their knives. They ambushed CarlAntonio. Carl died last.
More recollections were about the Germans Birgit and Bernd. When the "catastrophe of 2028" occurred, they were young children in Italy on vacation with their parents. At that time the government was not releasing true details of the radioactive disaster. Their parents went back to Germany to see what happened and were never heard from again. Young Birgit and Bernd were adopted, but six years later they abruptly ran away when bad things happened to Birgit. The two are inseparable.
The envelope CarlAntonio passed to Domenica contained a papal VidChip. She slipped it into the flexomon and had a visual discussion with a man named Bertolino Falcotti who has a connection to the Holy Father. Falcotti interviewed Domenica for a job and asked her questions about her parents. She told him that her father had died in an attack 10 years earlier in Naples during the battle of 2039. Falcotti told Domenica to have a physical exam at a specified location. The experience was weird because they knocked her out for two hours, then she woke up with no recollection of what happened. She didn't hear back from Falcotti.
After one more murderous scene near her neighborhood, Domenica decided to move closer to the university. She was at her new apartment when yet another attack occurred near her old apartment at a convent. Stavros died trying to help the nuns. Domenica wept and got drunk and yelled out her window, "Rome is dying!"
The Doctor and the Dinosaurs: Pyr; December 2013; 255 pages (with and extra 30 pages for appendixes); illustration by Andrew Bosley. Mike Resnick is a prolific writer of novels and short stories and has edited 40 anthologies. He has won five Hugo Awards and has been nominated over 30 times. He is the author of the Starship series, the John Justin Mallory series, and the popular Kirinyaga series. Resnick's novel The Doctor and the Dinosaurs is the fourth book in his "Weird West Tales" series. The Doctor and the Dinosaurs won out over The Scholar, the Sphinx, and the Shades of Nyx by A. R. Cook to get into the second round.
The Doctor and the Dinosaurs takes us on a trip to an alternate version of the Wild West. Doc Holliday is dying in a sanitarium in Leadville, Colorado. An owl rests on the windowsill, turns into Geronimo, then offers Doc a chance to live about one or two more years if he will help Geronimo.
According to the Apache Geronimo, white men are digging for dinosaur bones on sacred Comanche land. Geronimo thinks Doc Holliday can convince the men to stop digging, using any means possible, including Doc's famous gunmanship.
Geronimo reveals that, if the digging on sacred land doesn't stop, the Comanche medicine men plan to resurrect some of the dinosaurs to destroy the white men and end the digging. However, once the dinosaurs are resurrected, they can't be controlled and will mindlessly kill anyone, including Apache and Comanche, in their path. In Geronimo's opinion, the better plan would be to simply stop the dig and leave the dinosaurs as bones and the sacred ground intact.
After Doc Holliday agrees to this deal, Geronimo does some chanting prayers. Although Doc still coughs, he feels as he did two years ago. Doc then sets out on his journey, which first takes him to Cheyenne, Wyoming. There, he meets up with Theodore Roosevelt, who is not president yet, and they head in a northwest direction to find the paleontologists' digging site and to see what's what.
Nearby Cope's dig, outside the camp, Holliday and Roosevelt run into Cole Younger, former outlaw, who has been hired by Cope as shootist to help protect the camp. Younger tells them that paleontologists Marsh and Cope do not like each other. Their camps are about 30 miles apart. Both parties have shootists (Marsh hired Bill Cody) to protect them and both try to sabotage each other's digs.
The three men, Younger, Holliday, and Roosevelt, recollect Younger's previous raids and robberies.
The Battle: We have The Cusanus Game, a futuristic science fiction novel that involves disaster and time travel verses The Doctor and the Dinosaurs, a Wild West alternate-reality fantasy.
The Cusanus Game is a fleshed-out epic tale that jumps from one time to another. Domenica's life takes place in her present time, with remembrances that take place a year ago, or 10 years in the past, or sometime earlier than that. Bits and pieces of historical events are revealed non-sequentially, which seems disjointed at times. The war torn area, the racist behavior, the murders, the crude entertainment all make the novel very depressing. However, awesome writing keeps me reading.
The many street names and towns can be difficult to follow, probably because I'm not familiar with the specific locations in Europe, in particularly Italy. Street names abound, such as she headed "south on Amba Aradam and Terme di Caracalla and finally came out at Via Aventino." Too many unfamiliar names pull me out of the story. The details feel unnecessary.
There are many armed factions that confused me in the beginning, not knowing who's on the "good" side: the military, the Praetorians, the EuroForce, to name a few. Maybe that's purposefully done.
When CarlAntonio and Bernd and Birgit say they saw an older version of Domenica, I wondered if Domenica will become part of the "travel back in time" group. I'm curious to learn more about this "twin."
The Doctor and the Dinosaurs has no time travel, so it's easy to follow. Humor seeps in a lot. The story is fast-paced, and the conversation between Roosevelt and Doc Holliday is lively and entertaining.
Many famous Wild West names enter and leave the story faster than two shakes of a lamb's tail. Some names seem stuck in there to educate the reader as opposed to move the story forward.
An interesting high school project would be to read this Wild West alternate-history book and write a book report, maybe comparing a couple of real Wild West characters to their fantasy counterparts. Nine appendices are included at the end of the book, which I would like to read.
Choosing a book to continue is difficult on many levels. The Doctor and the Dinosaurs is easy to read, has an interesting plot, and would be fun finish. The Cusanus Game is depressing and reveals the horror of war and its aftermath. However, the writing is captivating. Although I'd like to continue each book for different reasons, I must make a tough decision.
In Battle of the Books two books face off against each other, but only one book can continue in the race to become the final overall winner. So, I (Jackie), after reading 50 pages of each book, must declare which book I’d rather continue reading.
THE WINNER: The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke
The Cusanus Game advances to the semi-finals round to take on Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson.
To see the whole bracket, click here.