Michael Livingston talks about THE SHARDS OF HEAVEN (and gives away a book!)

Jason talks with Michael Livingston, historian, author, and Professor of Medieval Literature at The Citadel in South Carolina. Michael’s fiction debut was recently released:...

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One Salt Sea: Has everything that’s great about October Daye

One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire It’s been a month since the defeat of Oleander de Merelands, since the Duke’s mad daughter Rayseline went on the lam, and since October Daye was...

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The Expanded Universe: Casual Othering and Literature of the Fantastic

Welcome to another Expanded Universe column where I feature essays from authors and editors of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, as well as from established readers and reviewers....

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Our rating system

We realize that we’re not professional literature critics — we’re just a group of readers who love to read and write about speculative fiction — but we...

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Recent Posts

Dragon Heart: Needed to be longer or shorter

Dragon Heart by Cecelia Holland

Cecelia Holland’s Dragon Heart had so much potential, with its gothic, Mervyn Peake-like setting and darkly surreal family dynamics. Unfortunately, Dragon Heart never fulfilled its promise, marred especially by a frustrating lack of fluidity or cohesion.

The relatively slim novel (about 270 pages) is set mostly in Castle Ocean, home to the ruling family of a small coastal land threatened (and really mostly-conquered) by an aggressive large empire to the east. The former king was killed by the Empire, leaving his queen with little choice but to marry one of the Emperor’s brothers. In fact, she has already killed the first brother-fiancé, but now a second inhabits Castle Ocean, waiting only the return of Tirza — the queen’s daughter — lost at sea, be... Read More

SFM: Carlie St. George, Robert Reed, H.P. Lovecraft, Vivian Vande Velde

Short Fiction Monday: There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about. 

The Case of the Little Bloody Slipper by Carlie St. George (2015, free at The Book Smugglers)

Jimmy Prince is a private investigator in Spindle City, a rough town with a thin veneer of civility and populated by spins on familiar fairy-tale tropes. If you’re looking for a fancy dress or some rented companionship, the Godmother has what you need... for a price, of course. A lethal disease known as Pins & Needles runs rampant, killing anyone who isn’t wealthy enough to afford the exorbitantly-priced medicine. And sometimes dead bodies turn up in dar... Read More

Night of the Soul Stealer: For kids who like being scared

Night of the Soul Stealer by Joseph Delaney

Night of the Soul Stealer, the third book in Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE (or WARDSTONE CHRONICLES) series is another intense scary story for children. Fans of the first two books, Revenge of the Witch and Curse of the Bane, which readers should finish first, will be pleased. I’m listening to Christopher Evan narrate HarperAudio’s version of the series.

The weather is getting colder, so it’s time to travel to the Spook’s winter residence, a solitary little house set in a harsh and desolate landscape. On the way, Alice, Tom’s only friend, is dropped off at a distant neighbors’ house. There’s some reason why the Spook doesn’t want her at his depressing winter estate... Read More

Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick: 21 stories spanning 3 decades

Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick by Philip K. Dick

I’ve been reading a lot of Philip K. Dick the last two years: 10 novels, 7 audiobooks, and now three short story collections. The more I read, the more I’m drawn to his hard-luck life story and strange religious experiences in the 1970s. In particular, his VALIS trilogy was probably the strangest SF exploration of suffering and salvation I’ve ever read. The only books left to read are two biographies and his 944-page Exegesis of personal writings.

I wanted a collection that would capture the whole range of his ideas without spanning multiple volumes and thousands of pages. There are many options, and I settled on Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick, 21 stories selected by Read More

Slade House: Come on in!

Slade House by David Mitchell

(Reposting to include Tadiana's and Marions's reviews.)

I may have to give up my long-held identity as someone who doesn’t enjoy reading horror, because I have really enjoyed some horror novels lately. David Mitchell’s latest, Slade House, is a sort of haunted house-slash-mystery story told over several decades, in several different voices, and it was delightful.

The book begins with a young boy, Nathan, who visits a house down narrow, twisting Slade Alley with his mother. The gate is set in the wall of the alley, and when he enters, he has the sense of entering a lovely, secret paradise of a place. He and his mother are fed and he meets another child, Jonah, a playmate and new friend for him. Their game of Fox and Hounds turns bizarre and unreal, but Nathan's mother dism... Read More

Sunday Status Update: November 29, 2015

This week, Sir Bors relates another masterpiece of plotting from the legends of King Arthur.

Bors: Today a damosel came to court. Not an unusual occurrence, save that this one came strutting right up to the king's throne and tossed off her cape and underneath she was girt with a sword. She said she didn't want to wear it -- in fact it caused her great inconvenience -- but she needed a noble knight to rid her of it. So the whole court tries to pull the damn sword out of its scabbard rather than just unbuckling it or cutting the belt, because apparently the whole court is made up complete morons. Eventually Sir Balin manages to pull the thing out, apparently liberating the damosel from the inconvenience of carrying it around. Yay? Only then the damosel wanted it back, because it would cause Balin an evil fate or some tosh. But Balin decided he was going to keep it, so the damosel fluttered off moaning a... Read More

The Walking Dead, Vol. 1: Days Gone Bye

Reposting to include Skye's new review:

The Walking Dead, Volume 1: Days Gone Bye by Robert Kirkman & Tony Moore

In his introduction to The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman explains that the best zombie stories feature waves of blood but also come with strong undercurrents of social commentary. If the back of this graphic novel is to be believed, Kirkman will explore how “in a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.”

Kirkman mentions George Romero’s zombie movies in his introduction, but his take on the zombie is more than homage to Romero’s movies. While Romero’s zombies often satirize our consumer culture, Kirkman’s undead are presented in contrast to our complacent “lifestyles.” The walking dead literally hunger for life, while most of Kirkman’s readers, it seems, merely endure it.

So it is no surprise th... Read More

The Hunt for Vulcan: Wonderful exploration of the search of the hidden planet

The Hunt for Vulcan: How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe by Thomas Levenson

With recently-demoted-from-the-planetary-ranks Pluto in the news lately thanks to the New Horizons probe, it’s a good time to recall when the solar system, rather than shrinking, used to be larger by one planet. That would be the planet Vulcan, which for decades was listed as lying just inside the orbit of Mercury. Why did people think Vulcan existed? More interestingly perhaps, why did so many people think they actually saw it? And what eventually convinced the scientific community that it wasn’t there? That’s the story of The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson, and the answer to that third question lies in the book’s subtitle: How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe. Read More

The Philosopher Kings: Surprises and philosophy, with a touch of Greek mythology

The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton

My jaw remained open whilst I read the last pages of Jo Walton’s The Just City, and for a little while afterwards. Released earlier this year, Walton’s first novel in a new trilogy saw the start of a story whose foundational ideas are so wild, so daring, that only an author with the fullest grasp of her talent could even think of trying to wrestle with them, let alone to actually subdue and then use them to write an engaging story.

In that novel, scholars and philosophers from different times and places are selected by the goddess Athene to build the ideal society depicted in Plato’s famous dialogue, The Republic. To accomplish that, she gifts them multiple robots from the future whom we later learn are able to develop self-awareness. Those same schola... Read More

The People of the Mist: An exciting lost-race novel… with no Quatermain

The People of the Mist by H. Rider Haggard

Sir Henry Rider Haggard, the so-called "Father of the Lost Race Novel," didn't write such stories featuring only Allan Quatermain and Ayesha, She Who Must Be Obeyed. For example, his 17th novel, The People of the Mist (1894), is a smashing, wonderfully exciting, stand-alone lost-race tale featuring all-new characters. But the first third of the novel is hardly a lost-race story at all, but rather one of hard-bitten African adventure.

In it, we meet Leonard Outram, a penniless British adventurer who is seeking wealth in the wilds of the "Dark Continent" after losing his family lands and estates (through no fault of his own, it should be added). He becomes involved in the rescue of a young Portuguese woman from the largest slaving camp in Africa, and this thrilling and quit... Read More