Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]
What is it that drives us to pick up and complete a novel? A plot that carefully mortars brick upon brick, each clicking neatly together giving us no choice but to wonder “but then what?” until we look up surprised to find ourselves at the end? A character so intriguing we feel compelled to follow along wherever their thoughts and actions lead us? The range and depth of emotions that buffet us as we’re swept along? Any one or two or all of these?
What in the world, then, is Kate Atkinson thinking in her newest work, Life After Life? In giving us Ursula Todd, who struts not just one life on the stage but dozens... Read More
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Kalimpura by Jay Lake
Kalimpura is the third and supposedly concluding book in Jay Lake’s series about Green, the young girl who becomes enmeshed in both worldly and godly politics, much to her dismay. I had lots of issues with the first book, Green, fewer but still some issues with the follow-up, Endurance, and I have to say that Kalimpura, while better than Green, didn’t wrap up the series in any way that would have me recommend readers pick up the trilogy.
Kalimpura picks up soon after Green has given birth to twins, a son and daughter. Still unresolved from Endurance is the fate of the two girls stolen away and taken to Green’s homeland city of Kalimpura. After several attacks in Copper Downs, and attempts by Green to resolve her standing issues with the gods of that city, including Divine and Blackblood, Green takes ship with a small group of allies... Read More
Endurance by Jay Lake
Endurance, Jay Lake’s follow-up to Green, is in some ways an improvement and in some ways marred by similar issues. Overall, though, I found it a more consistently enjoyable read, if still not a great one.
Endurance picks up not long after Green, with the titular character lying low in the High Hills outside Copper Downs, growing more and more dismayed by how her ongoing pregnancy is affecting her physical abilities. Lying low, though, is not an option for Green, and soon she is drawn back into a host of problems (and I mean a host) bedeviling Copper Downs: gods being killed, political infighting, increased crime and chaos since Green killed the centuries-old Duke (who is still hanging around in ghost form), a troublesome rise in Pardine (the feline race of Dancing Mistress) anger towards being displaced by humans and robbed of a great magic. Then there are the is... Read More
Green by Jay Lake
Green, by Jay Lake, follows the sometimes horrific, sometimes savage, sometimes victorious story of its titular first-person narrator. As a toddler, Green (that only becomes her name well into the novel) is sold off by her single-parent father and taken by ship from her vaguely Southeast-Asian country to the city of Copper Downs, a cold northern kingdom full of pale-skinned people. Over a little more than a dozen years, she discovers the purpose behind her training, returns home, trains to be an assassin, and faces multiple gods.
Lake divides his novel into three major sections. First is Green’s time in Copper Downs, ruled for the past four centuries by a seemingly immortal Duke under whose rule some are beginning to chafe. There she is kept isolated in a walled compound and trained by various Mistresses (including a non-human known as Dancing Mistress) in a plentitude of arts and knowledge, not learn... Read More
Tunnel Out of Death by Jamil Nasir
As a consumer of media, I’m usually OK with works that aren’t particularly focused on plot. Some of my favorite books and films are uber-quiet stories where “nothing happens.” Heck, I’m really looking forward to the new Terence Malick film, even though it appears to have the same narrative quality of a screensaver program. Character-driven works, works where the images sweep you away, works where the ideas make up for lack of story — I’ve enjoyed all of them. Unfortunately though, Jamil Nasir’s newest, Tunnel Out of Death, managed to test even my patience for non-story-driven fiction. I think partially because it tries so hard to have a story, at least at the start. If it hadn’t, if it had dispensed with all that, I might have been more open. As it is, though, this was a tough go for me from beginning to end, though it has its moments.
Heath Ransom is an endovoyant priv... Read More
Ubik by Philip K. Dick
Ubik, by Philip K. Dick, is, well, a Philip K. Dick novel. By that, I mean it has just what one would expect from PKD. Characters, and readers, lost as to what is real and what is not? Check. Sense of world and time out of joint? Check. Characters who feel something is after them, some malevolent force? Check. Drugs. Psi-powers. Attacks on consumerism. An ending that leaves you even more confused. Check. Check. Check. And oh yes, check.
Summarizing a Dick novel can be an exercise in futility. Without experiencing it in its entirety, it can sound wholly absurd (not that Dick shies away from the absurd, mind you). But here goes anyway. Glen Runciter runs the best anti-psi business going in 1992, with an especially worried focus on his arch-nemesis Hollis, who seems to run the best psi (telepath, pre-cog) organization going. At the start of the novel, many of Hollis’s top telepaths have disappeared, leaving Runci... Read More
Abbot and Costello. Woodward and Bernstein. Ben and Jerry. Siskel and Ebert (a moment of silence). Bert and Ernie. Thelma and Louise. Holmes and Watson.
The world is rife with famous duos (the Dynamic Duo). But what about the fantasy/science fiction worlds? Who are our famous duos? Our favorites? When you think of paired characters, whom do you think of? Frodo and Sam? Merry and Pippin? The City and the Stars? Rendezvous and Rama? Oh, wait...
Well, you get the idea. Tell us who your favorite SFF duo is and why we should all agree. Or at least, nod our heads and go “Oh, yeah. Them too . . .”
One commenter wins a book from our stacks! Read More
The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
I’m beginning to wonder if Brandon Sanderson is cloning himself. Really, it’s just making the rest of us look bad, all the work he’s managing to put out there. I find myself hoping he’s a really bad father or something, until I realize that’s sort of taking it out on his children. So maybe I’ll go with his lawn is a scraggly weed-filled mess and he dresses poorly. Anyway, another month, another Sanderson book . . .
If one did a mash up of Harold and the Purple Crayon, A Wizard of Earthsea, and Read More
Loki’s Wolves by K.L. Armstrong & M.A. Marr
I’m going to start this review of Loki’s Wolves, the first book in a new series entitled THE BLACKWELL PAGES, by K.L. (Kelley) Armstrong and M.A. (Melissa) Marr, by saying that there is a good chance it really is a pretty decent Middle Grade book that a number of readers that age will enjoy. Not being that age, it is kind of hard for me to tell. That hasn’t stopped me from reviewing Middle Grade books before, but the truth is, if the book had strong characterization, a vivid sense of place, an internally consistent and well-paced plot involving a nice mix of action and quiet, rich language, I didn’t have to worry about its targeted age group; it was just “good” and I assumed those younger readers would fall in line. Based on m... Read More
As I was watching the trailers lately for Star Trek, Thor II, World War Z, and a few others, and thinking of what’s coming down the pipeline (The Hobbit II, Snow Crash, Ender’s Game, and others), as well as reading all the talk lately about the Star Wars franchise and what’s happening there, I was thinking it’s a pretty good time to be alive for those of us who enjoy good science fiction-fantasy films (or enjoy making fun of bad science fiction-fantasy films).
Clearly, one large reason for the explosion in such films’ popularity is the relatively recent ability to simply film the kinds of scenes we expect to see. It wasn’t too long ago, for instance, that conventional wisdom thought that the Lord of the Rings, for instance, was unfilmable: “A thousand page story with giant, talking trees and a disembodied villain? Yeah, good luck with that on-screen.” The same was true of Cloud Atlas, albeit f... Read More
Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb
Way back in a review of the second book (Dragon Haven) in Robin Hobb’s RAIN WILDS series, I wrote “I’ve begun to wonder over the course of Hobb’s recent books if she is exploring just how much plot she needs in her novels to actually have a ‘story.’ It’s almost as if she’s feeling her way to as quiet and minimalist a style (in terms of action, not language) as possible.” Now, two books later, with Blood of Dragons, the tetralogy has come to a close and I’d say the question still pertains. While normally a fan of Hobb’s character-driven and slower-paced style, I have to confess that this series was a little uneven for me, and its finale a bit too slow with characters who didn’t quite hold my interest enough.
Blood of Dragons picks up where its predecessor ends, with the Eld... Read More
Emilie & the Hollow World by Martha Wells
Emilie & the Hollow World, by Martha Wells, has an immediately endearing title (I’m a big fan of hollow world stories), which it doesn’t quite live up to. It’s a solid enough story, though, if not particularly distinctive.
The novel opens with sixteen-year-old Emilie running away from her uncle’s home and trying to slip aboard the local ferry. Things go awry and instead she’s forced to swim to another nearby ship to hide from the dock guards. Turns out it just isn’t Emilie’s night, however, for soon the ship she’s crawled up on is under attack and she quickly finds herself dodging bullets, meeting a not-at-all human-person, and then traveling the “aether current” into the world at the center of our own. Soon, she learns she’s now an involuntary part of a rescue party/scientific expedition whose members include Lord Engal, Vale Marlende (her father is... Read More
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
A Genie. A golem. Nineteenth-century New York City. Boy, did I want to love this book. Drawn by its come-hither characters, its promise of poetry, and by its dark side in the form of a truly nasty character, I really, really wanted to love it. And truth is, I liked The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker. But in the well-trod words of middle school, I didn’t “like like” it. Oh, it was fun, it made me smile sometimes and think sometimes and feel a bit sad at other times. I enjoyed hanging out with it for the length of its near-500 pages. But, despite that fire-genie at its heart, there just wasn’t that spark. I just wanted to be friends.
We meet our two fantastical characters early on via two different storylines. The Golem, Chava, travels to 1899 New York on a steamer and finds herself ashore in a Bowery neighborhood of Jewish immigrants. The Jinni, meanwhil... Read More
River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay
Since this is a fantasy review site, let’s get this out nice and early. Outside of its setting — a fictionalized and truncated version of China’ s 11th century Northern Song Dynasty — there is next to no fantasy in River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay’s newest work. A few ghosts, an occasional fox-woman, and that’s it. So fantasy readers will have to take those few bones tossed their way and then settle for graceful, lyrical prose, beautifully drawn characters, moments that stab the heart, a masterful sense of structure and pace, and an overall elegance and skill that denotes a novelist in complete control of his creation. Oh, the things we put up with.
The storyline is roughly that of the aforementioned period in China’s history. The Kitai Empire, reacting to long-ago rebellions by army commanders against the royal court, has allowed its armies to grow weak and its commanders in... Read More
David Walton is the author of Quintessence (which I highly recommend) and Terminal Mind, which won the 2008 Philip K. Dick Award for best paperback science-fiction novel that year. David recently took some time out to answer some of my questions and to let us know what he is currently working on. More information can also be found at his website. One commenter will win a hardback copy of Quintessence.
Bill Capossere: Why did you set Quintessence in the sixteenth century? What about the time period attracted you or made you think it fertile ground for a fantasy novel?
David Walton: The sixteenth century was a remarkable time. It was the age of exploration, when European sailors were taking dangerous voyages to discover new lands and people, as well as the ver... Read More