Daniel Polansky talks about Low Town


Earlier this week I reviewed Daniel Polansky’s debut novel, Low Town, and I mentioned that I loved the setting, characters, and tone of the novel. Mr. Polansky sent me this...

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Solaris: Can we communicate with an alien sentient ocean? If so, about what?


Solaris by Stanislaw Lem Solaris is an amazing little novel with a colorful history. First written in 1961 by Stanislaw Lem in Polish, it was then made into a two-part Russian TV...

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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

The Alchemists’ Council: Establishes the groundwork for a new trilogy

The Alchemists’ Council by Cynthea Masson

As the first installment in a planned trilogy by Cynthea Masson, The Alchemists’ Council faces difficult challenges in setting up a world which is both familiar and foreign, introducing characters and their motivations, and resolving enough plot to satisfy readers while teasing them with more to come. Masson’s prose is dense with details and striking imagery, and her characters are compelling, though the plot occasionally falters under the weight of the world-building.

The Alchemists’ Council exists in a neighboring dimension to our own and is populated by no more than one hundred members who are ruled by an Azoth Magen, typically an elderly member who offers wisdom and guidance to both the Council as a whole and as needed by individual members. They preserve a massive library and use alchemical methods to extend their lives far beyond wha... Read More

The Story of Kullervo: One for the completists/diehard fans only

The Story of Kullervo by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited and annotated by Verlyn Flieger)

Over the past few years we’ve seen several releases of J.R.R. Tolkien’s retellings of ancient tales combined with scholarly notes/lectures by him: The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, The Fall of Arthur, and Beowulf. At some point (for all I know, we’ve already reached it) the posthumously published material is going to be greater than what appeared in his lifetime. I have no idea how he himself would react to that, but as a fan, I’m pretty much in the “keep ‘em comin’” mode. The newest one is The Story of Kullervo, edited and annotated by Verlyn Flieger, and it falls more to the side of the Arthurian tale in that it’s probably best for Tolkie... Read More

Shadow and Bone: Same tropes, new story

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

YA can be more fickle than its literary cousins. It’s notorious for trends. There were wizards, vampires, and what feels like a decade’s worth of dystopias. The result is a glut of books with sassy female protagonists who discover they have a unique power, are fighting to save the world, and struggling to decide which hunky love interest to pick from in their love triangle. Shadow and Bone doesn’t do anything groundbreaking in terms of avoiding these tropes, but what it does do is tell them in a fresh and innovative way.

Alina Starkov was raised in an orphanage alongside her best friend (and future love, obviously), called Mal. They live in Ravka, a fantasy Russia of samovars and Grisha — powerful magical soldiers that work directly for the king. If you don’t have magic, you’re bumped down to the common army, where Alina and Mal find themselves. As with most YA... Read More

The Geek Feminist Revolution: Just didn’t do it for me

The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

The Geek Feminist Revolution is a collection of writing by Kameron Hurley, much of which was originally published online. And at the risk of sounding curmudgeonly and persnickety, from my viewpoint the problem was they read that way. Some of that I think is in the nature of the writing, and some of that probably is my own issue in the expectations I come with when a book is subtitled “Essays” (and there’s that “persnickety” part).

The collection is made up of nearly 40 essays divided into four sections, though as one would expect, there’s a fair amount of overlap in their subject matter. The sections are: Level Up (dealing with the craft and business of writing), Geek (media criticism), Let’s Get Personal (these are, well, more personal), and Revolution (a call for changing the ... Read More

The Ruby Airship: Slogging across France by land and by air

The Ruby Airship by Sharon Gosling

The Ruby Airship is a direct sequel to The Diamond Thief and the second book in Sharon Gosling’s DIAMOND THIEF YA steampunk trilogy; though some key events from the previous book are recapped in this installment, I suggest that if you’re interested in the trilogy, you should read these books (and their reviews) in sequential order.

It’s been roughly six months since the water-soaked conclusion of The Diamond Thief. Rémy Brunel and a mechanically-inclined street urchin, known only as J, have moved into the Professor’s old workshop. Rémy works as a stage performer and moonlights as a vigilante, somehow having translated her skills as a trapeze artist into literally-unbelievable martial arts, able to out... Read More

The Twelve: Thrilling sequel expands epic story and mythology

The Twelve by Justin Cronin

Justin Cronin’s 2010 apocalyptic-vampire thriller, The Passage, debuted in the midst of the mass consumer love affair with the weird and supernatural. In the evolution of the vampire in pop culture, Anne Rice turned Bram Stoker’s blood-sucking villain into a romantic lead. Stephenie Meyer morphed Lestat into a high school heart-throb. Justin Cronin pulled the genre up and out of its romanticized and stagnating plateau to give the publishing world something more epic, more poignant, more ... genuine.

The Passage was a runaway success, though it left readers wanting more and hungrier than a 100-year old viral. Two years l... Read More

Sunday Status Update: May 29, 2016

This week, Supergirl with another instance of Alien World Problems.

Supergirl: I sleepwalk occasionally. I don't like to mention it too often, because people seem to get a little concerned when they hear me say so. And I get it. I do. When most people sleepwalk, they just kind of do what they'd do anyway in their day-to-day lives. Sort of roam around, turn lights on and off. I knew someone once who made sandwiches when she sleepwalked. Aside from a bit of spoiled mayonnaise, there's rarely any real harm done. But then there's me. I spend my days flying around at mach 3 and punching things really hard. So I am both a lot more mobile and a lot more damaging than your average somnambulist. I woke up outside an Arby's in Kentucky once. Apparently everything was closed but the drivethrough, but I tried the door anyway. Apart from the door being off its hinges, there wasn't any real problem -- they tickled me awa... Read More

Archangel, Issue One, by William Gibson and Michael St. John Smith

 Archangel, Issue One, by William Gibson and Michael St. John Smith, Illustrated by Butch Guice

I kept my head down as I moved through the crowd. This mission was a total Hail Mary, two agents-in-place improvising because we had to work fast. Fankind risked his cover even talking to HQ, but if the intel was right, if he had what we thought he had… “Archangel, Issue One, by William Gibson,” he had said. “This could change everything.”

Rumors were only rumors, of course, but as I pretended an interest in the Cruisin’ The Main Drag Car Parade I couldn’t help, just for a few seconds, but dream. The first original comic co-written by William Gibson and Michael St. John Sm... Read More

Sandman (Vol. 3): Dream Country by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman (Vol. 3): Dream Country by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman's Dream Country, the third volume in his Sandman series, is a collection of four stand-alone stories. I think it makes for a great introduction to the world of Sandman because each story is incredibly different from the one that precedes it; therefore, this particular volume is more likely to include at least one story that appeals to new readers who may be put off by a volume collecting only a single storyline. In fact, I recommend that readers new to Sandman start with either volum... Read More

The Spider’s War: Brings a great series to a more-than-satisfactory close

The Spider’s War by Daniel Abraham

I thought Daniel Abraham was one of the best writers working in the craft when I first read A Shadow in Summer nearly ten years ago, and the rest of that series, THE LONG PRICE QUARTET did nothing to dissuade me of that first impression. Nor has what followed over the years, which includes the ongoing EXPANSE science fiction series (co-written with Ty Franck) and the fantasy series, THE DAGGER AND THE COIN, which wrapped up this spring with The Spider’s War, bringing to an end another great series in unsurprisingly excellent fashion. I’m going to assume you have already read the previous books and so won’t bother recapping/explaining previous events or characters.

The Spider’s War picks up shortly after the events of the prior book, Read More