Great Bookstores: The Strand, New York City

Manhattan used to be a book-shopping mecca for me, with independent and used bookstores every other block. Alas, that is no longer the case, as I learned to my regret a few years ago when my husband and I tried to track down a few beloved stores. Said husband had printed out a list of Manhattan bookstores from the Internet, failing to note that the list was published ten years earlier. We walked from the West Side to the East Side and back again, discovering either that stores no longer existed or were mere shadows of their former selves. All that walking! And it was sleeting on top of it. As you might imagine, I suggested gently (!) that my husband check the date on any list next time.

One great Manhattan bookstore that survives is Strand Book Store. Like Powell’s (which we visited in a previous Great Bookstores column), it sells new and used books... Read More

Concrete Island: Stranded in modernity like a latter-day Crusoe

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Concrete Island by J.G. Ballard

In the early 1970s, J.G. Ballard was busily creating modern fables of mankind’s increasingly urban environment and the alienating effect on the human psyche. Far from humans yearning to return to their agrarian and hunter-gatherer roots, Ballard posited that modern man would begin to adapt to his newly-created environment, but at what price? Ballard’s protagonists in Crash (1973), Concrete Island (1974), and High-Rise (1975) are modern, urbane creatures, educated and detached, who embrace their technology-centric lifestyles. But when conditions change, their primitive urges and psychopathologies emerge to horrifying effect.

In Concrete Island, a modern-day retel... Read More

Pacific Fire: A strand of moral ambiguity makes this sequel stand out

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Pacific Fire by Greg van Eekhout

(Our reviews may contain spoilers for the previous novel, California Bones.)

Pacific Fire is the second book in Greg van Eekhout’s OSTEOMANCY series. The first one, California Bones, was the story of Daniel Blackland, son of a powerful osteomancer in a magical southern California. If California Bones charted the fate of Daniel, Pacific Fire belongs almost entirely to Sam, Daniel’s foster son.

At the end of California Bones, Daniel met Sam, who was then about six years old. Ten years have passed, and Daniel and Sam have led an on-the-run existence. Meanwhile, in the magic Kingdom of Los Angeles, (Yes, I did write “magic ki... Read More

Black Pearls: A Faerie Strand: Lovely as petal, sharp as thorn

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Black Pearls by Louise Hawes

Once upon a time, there was a woman who was so caught up in a book that she did nothing all day but read it, from cover to cover.

Black Pearls: A Faerie Strand is a gem. Louise Hawes' dark, sensual fairy tale retellings and Rebecca Guay's evocative illustrations work perfectly together to form one of the best books of retold tales that I've ever read. I checked this out from the library, but I've resolved that I simply must have a copy of my own to treasure.

Hawes' prose is perfect for the genre. Her writing is beautiful without being heavy, and she has a talent for conveying visceral images in arch, elegant turns of phrase. She's also got a knack for metaphors. They're sometimes unexpected, sometimes familiar, and always perfectly fitting for the character who thinks them. (Rapunzel's ... Read More


Strands — (1989-1997) Spires of Spirit is a short story collection. Publisher’s Weekly: Baudino sets this engrossing fantasy-adventure in a mythical land that replicates the political and religious tensions of 14th-century Europe. The heroine, Miriam, unwillingly gifted with the power to heal, falls victim to a savage Inquisition that condemns her ability as witchcraft, and to a ruthless nobleman who rapes her after she saves his life. Baudino understands the psychology of the persecuted, astutely motivating the self-immolating rage that consumes Miriam and leads her to undergo a complete, magical physical metamorphosis (she becomes tall, strong and beautiful) so that she can be a scourge for her enemies. Though the plot has its share of exciting sword fights, bold rescues and similar stock-in-trade, Baudino focuses on Miriam’s interior journey — her spiritual (which accompanies the corporeal) transformation through contact with the uncorrupted Elves, with the pagan priestesses known as witches and with simple Christians. Her tale acquires an elegiac power, mourning the loss of innocent sources of wisdom even as it vividly imagines them.

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Tomorrow’s Yesterday: Unearthing a true obscurity

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Tomorrow’s Yesterday  by A.M. Stanley

I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb in making the following sweeping statements about a certain book that I just read, A.M. Stanley’s Tomorrow’s Yesterday: You have never heard of this book, or of its author. You’ve never read anything about the book, either in print or online. This, my friends, is a lost book; one that, since its initial publication in 1949, has plummeted stone-like to the bottom of the literary pool. Not just a book that is currently out of print but is easily researchable ― there are tens of thousands of those ― but rather, a book for which virtually no information is to be had at all. Even the usually infallible Internet Speculative Fiction Database offers no help when it comes to this volume, and indeed, I do believe that this review here may well constitute the only substan... Read More

A City Dreaming: Intriguing hero, intriguing setting

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A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky

First things first: A City Dreaming (2016) is not really a novel (as its cover claims). It’s more like a collection of connected short stories that all feature the same protagonist (an adept named M) in the same setting (a supernatural New York City). The stories progress chronologically and have a cast of recurring characters. I liked this set-up quite well, but I suspect that some readers will want to be warned about this straight off so they can choose to approach A City Dreaming when they’re in the mood for a more episodic adventure.

M has just returned to NYC after being out of the country for years. He’s introverted and somewhat of a loner, so at first he doesn’t let anyone know he’s in town, but soon the magical community becomes aware of his presence and then his friends, acquaintances... Read More

The Black Flame: Looooooooong live the princess!

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The Black Flame by Stanley G. Weinbaum

Although Kentucky-born sci-fi author Stanley G. Weinbaum is today considered a seminal writer in his chosen field, his actual career was, sadly, an exceedingly brief one. After making a huge splash with his short story “A Martian Odyssey,” featuring the truly alien, ostrichlike Tweel, in the July ’34 issue of Wonder Stories, Weinbaum shifted into high gear, creating some two dozen short pieces and three novels before succumbing to cancer in December ’35, at the age of 33. His entire career, thus, spanned a mere 18 months. I had previously enjoyed The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum... Read More

The Night of the Long Knives: Totally absorbing

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Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

The Night of the Long Knives by Fritz Leiber

Free on Kindle.

Murder, as you must know by now, I can understand and sympathize with deeply. But war? No.

After a nuclear holocaust, America is unrecognizable. There are a few cities left on the coasts, but most of America is now the Deathlands, where radioactive dust hazes the skies and radiation-scarred survivors try to stay alive another day. Besides devastating the land, the catastrophe has somehow warped the minds of the few remaining citizens of the Deathlands; they have all turned into murderers. They can’t help it — it’s a drive that can only be released by killing someone. Even when they band together for companionship, it always ends up in a bloodbath.

Ray ha... Read More

Wasp: Phase 9 From Outer Space

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Wasp by Eric Frank Russell

There seems to exist some very real confusion as to just what English sci-fi author Eric Frank Russell did during WW2. Some sources would have us believe that he worked for British Intelligence during the war years, while others claim that he was merely an RAF radio operator and mechanic. Whatever the real story may be, the writer put his war experiences to good use over a decade later, when he wrote what would be his sixth novel out of an eventual 10, Wasp. Initially released as an Avalon Books hardcover in November 1957, when Russell was already 52, Wasp has been called one of its author’s finest works. This reader was fortunate enough to acquire the 35-cent Perm... Read More

Time Is the Simplest Thing: Fast-paced and imaginative, with an important message

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Time Is the Simplest Thing by Clifford D. Simak

Written s(i)mack-dab in the middle of the American Civil Rights Movement, Clifford D. Simak’s Time Is the Simplest Thing utilizes the tools of science fiction to make poignant comments on the issues of the day. The novel, the author’s sixth out of an eventual 29, was initially serialized in the May - July 1961 issues of Analog magazine with the equally appropriate title The Fisherman, and went on to be nominated for that year’s Hugo Award. (It lost, to Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger In a Strange Land Read More

Dr. Futurity: An underrated Dick outing

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Dr. Futurity by Philip K. Dick

As I mentioned in my review of Philip K. Dick’s 1960 novel Vulcan’s Hammer, by 1959, the future Hugo winner was feeling decidedly disenchanted with science fiction in general, despite having had published some 85 short stories and half a dozen novels in that genre. The author, it seems, was still pinning his hopes on becoming a more “respectable,” mainstream writer, and had indeed already completed nine such novels: Return to Lilliput, Pilgrim on the Hill and A Time for George Stavros are considered lost, probably never to see the light of day, whereas Gather Yoursel... Read More

Vulcan’s Hammer: Minor Dick, but still very entertaining

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Vulcan’s Hammer by Philip K. Dick

According to Philip K. Dick authority Lawrence Sutin, in his well-researched biography Divine Invasions, by 1959, although Dick had already had some 85 short stories as well as half a dozen novels published, his interest in creating more sci-fi had reached a low point. The future Hugo winner was at this point hoping to become more of a mainstream author, having by this time already written nine such novels, none of which had been published … yet. Still, with bills to pay, a wife (his third of an eventual five) to support, and his first child on the way, economic necessities did, it seem, perforce drive him back, unenthusiastically, to the sci-fi realm. Tw... Read More

WWWednesday; November 30, 2016

This week’s word for Wednesday is a phrase. ‘To turn your tippet’ meant ‘to entirely change your behavior or course in life’ in 16th century English. Thanks, as always, to Haggard Hawks.


Margaret Hamilton, a software engineer for NASA whose software guided the first lunar landing, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the USA’s highest civilian honor, this month.

The group called the Sad Puppies seem to be arguing among themselves over this year’s Hugo Awards. The Sad Puppies have always stated that they are different from the Rabid Puppies, and one blogger thinks that Katie Paulk did not do enough to champion the Sad Puppies group’s choices ... Read More

The Windsingers: Refreshingly mature heroes

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The Windsingers by Megan Lindholm

The Windsingers is the second book in a series of four featuring Ki and Vandien. It was first published in 1984. The first novel, Harpy’s Flight, which was also Lindholm's debut, showed some serious flaws in pacing and structure but I still thought it was an interesting book. In The Windsingers, Lindholm clearly improves in those areas but she loses some of the dynamic between Ki and Vandien. In the end I did think the first novel, Harpy's Flight, was a more entertaining read, even if The Windsingers was better written.

Ki and Vandien are meeting up in the town of Dyal where Ki hopes to find a new cargo to haul. Vandien has been in town for a while and thinks he has come upon a bargain too good to refuse — salvaging a chest from ... Read More