Sean McMullen, Author . Tor $27.95 (592p) ISBN 978-0-312-87736

Deadly monks, harassed bird people, daring pilots and a vicious amnesiac are but some of the disparate personalities enlivening the intricate future world upended in Australian author McMullen's latest SF epic. Hailing from different lands, they all wind up in Libris, Australica, the domain of the Dragon Librarians and their computer, the Calculor, after simultaneous, unrelated phenomena make their world go haywire. All electrical machines short-circuit, and the barrier that kept all pure humans out of vast tracts of land disappears. An Airlord from across the sea must obtain from Australica the means to keep her homeland ahead of its enemies in the race for land. This race forces the birdlike aviads to flee what had previously been their havens. An assassin monk becomes a spy for Libris, partnered with a woman who has been mysteriously transformed into a deadly creature with no memory. Ambiguity in the various protagonists' character is a refreshing touch, though it does make it difficult to decide whom to root for. Since the author provides much of the background in two previous novels (Souls in the Great Machine and The Miocene Arrow), first-time readers may be at a bit of a loss. Nonetheless, this stands as a sturdy, enjoyable addition to the McMullen canon. (Sept. 26)

Forecast:The publisher's odd decision not to position this title as part of a series, or at least indicate it shares the same world as other works by McMullen, could confuse readers and dampen sales.