Great Bookstores: Powell’s, Portland Oregon


We’re starting a new feature in which we highlight great bookstores for speculative fiction readers. We welcome your input! If you’ve been to a great bookstore recently,...

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The Dark is Rising: Should not be overlooked


Readers’ average rating: The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper Despite multiple awards and a talent that is up there with the best of the fantasy authors, Susan Cooper’s The...

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Exploration Blues


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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Recent Posts

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet: A bittersweet tale of magic and life

Readers’ average rating: 

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg

Maire, a baker in the small village of Carmine, is notable for two unusual characteristics. First, other than her name, she has complete amnesia about everything in her life up to the time she appeared near the village four and a half years ago. And secondly, Maire has the magical gift of infusing her baked goods with feelings and abilities that will be absorbed by the person who eats her food: strength, love, mercy, patience ... even, it seems, some magical abilities.

One day a pale, translucent man, with strange wings that look more like sunlit water than feathers, appears and talks to Maire briefly. He orders her to run for her life, but it's too late: marauders on horseback are storming the village and killing or capturing everyone in sight. Maire is taken and soon sold as a slave to a very odd and sinister man, Allemas, who finds out ... Read More

Winter of Fire: A surprisingly affecting little story

Readers’ average rating: 

Winter of Fire by Sherryl Jordan

Sherryl Jordan is a New Zealand-based author of young adult and children’s fantasy fiction. In Winter of Fire (1993) she tells the story of Elsha, a sixteen year old girl born into the enslaved underclass called the Quelled. As the sun has disappeared from the world, a memory only alive in mythology, the Quelled are forced to mine for the firestones that are the people's only source of warmth. But Elsha has a rebellious spirit and is often in trouble with the brutal overseers at the mine. They are from the upper class, the people known as the Chosen.

Elsha's life is changed forever when she is chosen to be the handmaid of the legendry Firelord. The Firelord is the most important man in the world as he possesses the power to divine for firestones, the life fuel of every person alive. The Firelord's choice is re... Read More

Century Rain: Noir, hard SF, and a dash of romance

Readers’ average rating: 

Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds

Century Rain (2004) is the first novel Alastair Reynolds published outside of his REVELATION SPACE setting. It combines elements of noir, hard science fiction and time travel with a dash of romance. Reynolds also experimented with noir elements in Chasm City and The Prefect (which I think is one of his best novels). The melding of noir and science fiction doesn’t work as well in Century Rain; this book is not one of Reynold's stronger novels.

The novel opens in the late 23rd century with archaeologist Verity Auger leading two students through the ruins of Paris. Earth has been destroyed by an event referred to as the nanocaust during the 2070s. A host of tiny machines, released to correct the centuries of abuse heaped upon the ear... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Identify last month’s book covers

Today’s covers all come from books we reviewed in June 2016. Once you identify a book cover, in the comment section list:

1. The number of the cover (1-16)
2. The author
3. The book title

Please identify just one cover that has not yet been identified correctly so that others will have a chance to play. If they're not all identified by next Thursday, you can come back and identify more.



Each of your correct entries enters you into a drawing to win a book of your choice from our stacks. Winners are notified in the comments, so make sure to check the notification box or remember to check back in about 10 days. If we don't choose a winner within 2 weeks, please bug Marion.

And, as always, we've got Read More

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge: A tasty cocktail of an urban fantasy

Readers’ average rating: 

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger

They live in Chicago. They’re young. They’re hip. They have tattoos. They can serve you any alcoholic drink you can name, and after last call, when the bars are closed, they go out for pancakes. And... they are part of a magical society, the Cupbearers Court, protecting innocent citizens, like you and me, from being attacked by demonic monsters. That’s the premise of Paul Krueger’s debut novel, Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge.

I mean, come on... we’ve always known alcohol was magical, haven’t we? Krueger’s fast-paced, fun urban fantasy literalizes the idea of alcohol as magic, and bartenders, with their encyclopedic knowledge and their alchemical ability to mix spirits, fruit, botanicals and sometimes fizzy stuff into tasty mind-altering beverages, into wizardly members of a sec... Read More

Invaders: A high percentage of excellent stories

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Invaders: 22 Tales from the Outer Limits of Literature ed. by Jacob Wesiman

As with most collections, whether they be of stories, poems, or essays, I found Invaders: 22 Tales from the Outer Limits of Literature, edited by Jacob Wesiman, to be a mixed bag overall, with some weak stories, some solidly good ones, some very good ones, and several absolutely great ones, more in fact than I typically find in an anthology, making this an easy collection to recommend.

The authors collected here are non-genre writers known mostly for “literary fiction,” such as George Saunders, Max Apple, Molly Gloss, Jim Shepard, Katherine Dunn, and Junot Diaz. In his introduction, Wesiman says the idea for this anthology came out of the responses he saw to an earlier one (from 2009) entitled Read More

Helliconia Winter: Deserves the BSFA award it won

Readers’ average rating: 

Helliconia Winter by Brian W. Aldiss

Like an architect seeing a cathedral they’ve designed have the steeple raised, or an engineer watching the bowsprit attached to a ship they’ve built, so too must Aldiss have felt writing the final chapter of Helliconia Winter (1985). The orbits within orbits, themes revolving around themes, and characters caught in the cycle of life, come to an end. But only on the page.

The series has covered millennia. The third and final book, Helliconia Winter, continues to tell a human-scale tale in harmony with the larger forces at play — geology, astrophysics, and biology all heavily influencing the narrative. This time around, however, Aldiss wields a heavier thematic hammer. The understated Gaian theme of Helliconia Spring and Helliconia Summer i... Read More

WWWednesday; July 20, 2016

This week’s word for Wednesday is pestiferous, an adjective, which the OED dates from about 1542. It means bringing or producing a pest or plague; dangerous to health, in the nature of a pest.

Awards:

The Prometheus Awards (Libertarian) were announced Seveneves by Neil Stephenson won the award for best novel. Courtship Rites by Donald Kingsbury won the Hall of Fame award. Click here for the full list.

Books and Writing:

Cat Rambo discusses the difference b... Read More

The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold: Stealing gold from dragons? What could go wrong?

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The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold by Jon Hollins

If you’re a fan of heist stories — particularly the planning, the bickering between co-conspirators, the moments when it all goes dreadfully wrong or sublimely right — and you also happen to enjoy epic fantasies with vicious fire-breathing dragons and their vast caches of filthy lucre, then you’ll be happy to know that there’s a Venn diagram where those two genres meet, and the center is filled by Jon Hollins’ debut fantasy novel, The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold.

In the lovely but oppressed Kondorra valley, humans farm and fish and pay taxes to the Dragon Consortium, a united band of dragons who demand exorbitant amounts of gold every year and take pleasure in using their subjects for aerial target practice. The people are downtrodden, miserable, and in desperate need of salvation from a... Read More

The Seed of Earth: A generally pleasing work from one of sci-fi’s best

Readers’ average rating:

The Seed of Earth by Robert Silverberg

Men of a certain age may recall a particular trepidation that was attendant with the coming of their 18th birthday; i.e., the fear of being drafted into the armed forces. From 1940 until January ’73, males here in the U.S. could be drafted, even during peacetime, to fill vacancies in the Army and other services, and well do I remember the sigh of relief that many breathed when the draft disappeared, in favor of an all-volunteer system. But, as Robert Silverberg’s 1962 novel The Seed of Earth had already demonstrated, conscription could entail far more intimidating prospects than a mere two-year Army hitch.

For the future Grand Master and multiple Hugo and Nebula Award winner, The Seed of Earth came at... Read More