Charles Tan (GUEST)

CHARLES TAN, one of our guest reviewers, is the owner of the blogs Bibliophile Stalker and Comic Quest. He also edits Philippine Speculative Fiction. You can read his fiction in that publication and in The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories. Charles has conducted interviews for The Nebula Awards and The Shirley Jackson Awards, as well as for online magazines such as SF Crowsnest and SFScope. He is a regular contributor to sites like SFF Audio and Comics Village.

The Search for the Red Dragon: Quick and enjoyable

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The Search for the Red Dragon by James A. Owen

The previous Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica book, Here There Be Dragons, had a clean ending, but The Search for the Red Dragon introduces a new conflict that's tied to the original adventure.

The strengths — and weaknesses — of the first book continue in The Search for the Red Dragon. The illustrations preceding each chapter are gorgeous, and James A. Owen's writing is plain, simple, and easy to get into. The mystery and dilemma are quickly established and the book has a "young adult" feel in terms of pacing and narrative technique. For example, I expected death to be uncommon in the novel, or at least that death would seldom be directly shown, and that prediction was p... Read More

Mythic II: Compact and precise

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Mythic II edited by Mike Allen

Much like its predecessor Mythic, Mythic 2 feels compact and precise. Both the prose and poetry (and everything else in between) are easy to read and have a lyrical tonality. The anthology is even and consistent, with no sudden drops or spikes in the quality. Editor Mike Allen also continues the format of alternating between both mediums, which makes the book work.

For the most part, I found the poems to be decent and the fiction enjoyable. Mythic 2 continues the tradition of weaving or re-inventing fairy tales, legends, and myths and infusing them with the sensibilities of the various authors. This isn't a long anthology, but the quality more than makes up for the brevity. I really liked all of the prose and appreciated the poetry but I think the former wins out ... Read More

Generation Loss: Simply ensnares you

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Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand

Some books simply ensnare you in the first few chapters, and that’s what happened to me when I picked up Generation Loss.

First is our protagonist, someone who, in the hands of a different writer, would be painted as pathetic and pitiful. Yet she's compelling and one easily falls in love with her despite all her faults — the rebellious girl you know you should avoid but can't help feeling attracted to.

Then there's the tone. Elizabeth Hand successfully conjures the ‘70s punk scene — something of which I’m ignorant yet, when Hand writes about it, it not only sounds authentic but actually feels familiar. This is compounded by the heroine's passion for photography and through a combination of details and apt metaphors that are consistent throughout Generation Loss, one has an ancho... Read More

The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales

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The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales is another thematic fantasy anthology by the trio of Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling, and Charles Vess. Coyote Road features twenty-six pieces of fiction and poetry. Each story is preceded by art by Vess and ends with a short bio and afterword from the author. In the Introduction, Windling gives us an extensive account of trickster tales around the world. The last few pages of the book consist of a Recommended Reading list of titles that tackle that subject as well.

Perhaps the best description I have for the stories here is that they're sophisticated and well-written. They're not easy reading and some have a slow pace, but they tend to leave a resonating emotion by the time you're d... Read More

Lonely Werewolf Girl: Addicting

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Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar

Lonely Werewolf Girl is a thick, intimidating tome but when you actually start reading, it goes down smoothly. What stands out most in this novel is Martin Millar's writing style. Not only does he use simple language and set a quick pace, but his chapters are very short and most of them end on just the right beat. Millar doesn't spend much time describing unnecessary details, instead focusing on the motivations, action, and dialog of the characters. Millar is someone who manages to break the "show don't tell" rule and make it work.

As for the story itself, Millar surrounds his comedy with tragic and deviant characters such as an anorexic protagonist and cross-dressing werewolves. The plot starts out simple — an outcast is on the run from her family — and soon spirals into a complex tale of politics that later evolves int... Read More

Greetings from Lake Wu: A story collection

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Greetings from Lake Wu by Jay Lake

Greetings from Lake Wu is a collaboration between Jay Lake and Frank Wu, with the former writing the short stories and the latter illustrating them. Wu's art can be found preceding each story (there are 13 in this collection) and his style has an old-school feel to it. Lake, on the other hand, struts his early work here and I find it amusing that the book begins and ends with stories that have a similar title ("The Courtesy of Guests" and "The Passing of Guests" respectively) and feature the same set of characters. As far as the fiction goes, most of the stories have a sci-fi angle and while Lake writes them competently, only a few possessed the impact I was expecting from Jay Lake (but those that do pack a wallop).

Having said that, here are my favorite three stories: "Jack's House" stands out... Read More

The Situation: Surreal and fantastic

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The Situation by Jeff Vandermeer

I'm a big fan of both Jeff VanderMeer and PS Publishing, so imagine my surprise when I found a copy of The Situation in my hard drive, a giveaway from Wired that I had downloaded but forgotten, mainly because it wasn't in my immediate must-be-read-for-review-or-else-we'll-send-ninjas queue. The first scene immediately hooked me, evoking a New Weird atmosphere as corporate drones created insects that crawled into your ears and conjured nightmares, all the while being quite readable instead of the overwhelming details that characterize China Mieville's NEW CROBUZON novels.

The fiction is presented in short bursts of scenes, each one ... Read More

The Last Hero: Funny and deep

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The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett

Note: Terry Pratchett's The Last Hero works without the illustrations, but you don’t want to miss out on Paul Kidby's fabulous Discworld art.

The Last Hero follows the trail of several popular Discworld characters and this is the closest you'll get to a world-spanning crossover. There's no real villain in the story — simply lots of good guys working on opposite ends.

As typical of a Discworld novel, Pratchett pokes fun at the convention of fantasy and what makes a hero a hero. Comedy aside though, t... Read More

Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse

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Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse edited by John Joseph Adams

John Joseph Adams assembles a wide variety of apocalypse-related fiction in Wastelands. some of which are older than I am, while others are more recent. What you end up with is a diverse anthology covering topics such as religion, war, and exploration while containing horror, comedy, and a sense of wonder.

The majority of the stories are easy to get into. Some stories are more subtle than others. Overall, Wastelands is an enjoyable read and the selection seems balanced. Having said that, here are my top three stories:

"Bread and Bombs" by M. Rickert is one of the more horrifying stories in this anthology, and this is achieved through her characterization and commentary on society. It's easy to jump into Rickert's text and ... Read More

The Drowned Life: Each and every story is rich

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The Drowned Life by Jeffrey Ford

Jeffrey Ford's The Drowned Life is as engrossing as his previous short story collections, immediately ensnaring the reader with his detailed prose and characterization. One noticeable trend is that while Ford dabbles in clear-cut fantasy with stories such as "The Manticore Spell" or "The Dismantled Invention of Fate," much of his work deals more with the mundane sprinkled with just the right amounts of magic and the surreal. The titular piece for example, "The Drowned Life," seems like the narrative of the common Joe, albeit one that utilizes Ford's excellent use of language and metaphor. However, it slowly steers itself into the territory of weirdness with its concept of an underwater afterlife but all this time, the reader isn't jolted from the experience.

What I particularly enjoy with Ford's ... Read More

Here, There Be Dragons: Quick, enjoyable, with Easter Eggs

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Here, There Be Dragons by James A. Owen

The first thing that comes to mind when I read Here, There Be Dragons is that it's dual-layered. On one hand, it's your typical young adult fantasy where the protagonists enter another realm and end up saving it (although James A. Owens breaks convention by having a much older demographic as its heroes). On the other hand, more knowledgeable readers will catch various literary and mythical allusions that the author sprinkled into the story.

This is very much a young adult book, especially since Owens dives into the action quickly and the narrative is sparse when it comes to descriptions and detail. It moves at a quick pace, the suspense is steady, and every chapter has an immediacy to it. Older readers will probably be tickled by Owens's various references and the true identity of its main characters.

James ... Read More

The New World: Lots of action

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The New World by Michael A. Stackpole

Retaining the suspense and excitement of the previous book, The New World brings to a close the epic The Age of Discovery series. Michael A. Stackpole's characterization and sense of timing remain his strengths, as well as his ability to deliver the unexpected to readers.

The New World features lots of action and combat scenes, as well as the usual elements of epic fantasy including honor, betrayal, and a climactic battle. The novel kept me on the edge of my seat, and Stackpole's use of language is quite compelling. The ending is a bit indulgent, but not to the point that it ruins an otherwise kinetic trilogy.

Cartomancy, the second book in the series, was superior in my opinion... Read More

Mythic: Quality makes up for quantity in this anthology

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Mythic edited by Mike Allen

While a relatively short anthology, what Mythic lacks in quantity is more than made up for with the quality of its selections. Each poem and story stands out as well as fitting the "mythic" tone the book is attempting to capture. Right from the very start, I was already enamored by the opening poem, "Syllables of Old Lore" by Vandana Singh and Mike Allen keeps the interest, flow, and beat consistent throughout the volume.

There are some editorial choices I'd like to highlight. The first is the sequencing. The poems alternate with the short stories and, if you're like me who reads anthologies in the sequence they're presented, this formula works. I can imagine my interest waning if I was barraged with poems initially followed by short stories and vice versa. As it is, Read More

Shadowbred: A fun read with plenty of suspense

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Shadowbred by Paul S. Kemp

First off, I'd like to clarify one thing. I don't really consider myself a Forgotten Realms reader (never mind my various Drizz't books or the Shadows of the Spider Queen novels) so I don't have a Master's degree in the setting. Having said that, Shadowbred was an interesting read and starts out with a prologue that hooked me.

As for the rest of Shadowbred, Paul S. Kemp manages to juggle multiple points of view from both heroes and villains. What I find compelling is that several prominent characters are either true anti-heroes (not surprising for other genres but definitely surprising for D&D) or genuine villains. It's good to be evil or simply practical and I haven't enjoyed m... Read More

Promise of the Witch-King: Homage to Leiber

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Promise of the Witch-King by R.A. Salvatore

Promise of the Witch-King is the second book in R.A. Salvatore's Sellswords series, a spin-off/repackaging of his famous Drizz't series. While the title may sound like a rip-off from Tolkien (and indeed, Dungeons & Dragons does name Lord of the Rings as one of its influences), Salvatore is actually paying homage to Fritz Leiber.

The novel follows the anti-hero adventures of Artemis Entreri, a mellowed-down assassin, and the dark elf Jarlaxle, an ambitious and enigmatic figure. Strangely enough, the series reminds me so much of Read More

Shriek: An Afterword

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Shriek: An Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer

Shriek: An Afterword is Jeff VanderMeer's second novel set in his AMBERGRIS cosmology. There are a lot of elements with regards to the book that I want to talk about, so please bear with me.

The first is that this is a sequel, yet it's not. I won't talk about City of Saints and Madmen here, but suffice it to say, Shriek: An Afterword builds on the material presented in that novel. However, it's not necessary to have read the previous book to appreciate this novel. For the uninitiated, it's merely enough to know that the historical artifacts mentioned in the book exist somewhere. Fans of Jeff VanderMeer, on the other hand, will be dazzled by the fact that the author actually wrote a text like "The Hoegbottom Guide to the Early History of Ambergris," the eq... Read More

The Bone Key: Tales of weirdness and horror

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The Bone Key by Sarah Monette

I've been seeing Sarah Monette's name for a while but, for the most part, this collection of short stories was a blind purchase. The Bone Key deals with the exploits of Kyle Murchison Booth which are homages to M.R. James and H.P. Lovecraft. Now I'm not familiar with the former but I can attest that Monette captures the mood of the latter with this book. Even the protagonist himself is similar to Lovecraft's "heroes" although Monette improves upon the concept and provides us at the very least with an interesting character instead of simply delivering a verbose narrator who can't hold a decent conversation.

There are ten stories in The Bone Key and each features an element of weirdness or horror. Unlike Lovecraft... Read More

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Two

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The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Two edited by Jonathan Strahan

The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Two is one of several anthologies that collects the best science fiction and fantasy of 2007. I've read many of the stories included, yet revisiting them actually made me appreciate them more rather than feel exhausted. One thing I noticed is that there's a stronger science fiction balance in this anthology compared to the previous volume, although that might also be because the lines between science fiction and fantasy easily get blurry.

The opening piece, Ted Chiang's "The Merchant and The Alchemist's Gate," is a good example. This is easily my favorite story and arguably Chiang's most accessible piece. The physics of time travel is narrated with an ... Read More

The Last Unicorn: Withstands the test of time

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The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Some of the most difficult books to review are old novels — especially the ones that have been deemed classics. The Last Unicorn is one of the novels that I fondly remember from my childhood, thanks to the cartoon.

Suffice to say, the book is just as good. Peter S. Beagle's sentences are long and the paragraphs tend to be blocky, but the language is easy enough to comprehend and he injects some of the tropes of high fantasy such as poetry and riddles.
The narrative itself follows the quest formula but The Last Unicorn has an atmosphere of meta-fiction, so it works. The highlight of the book is easily the characters, everything from the unicorn itself to Schmendrick and Molly and Prince Lir.

The Last Unicorn (originally published in 1968) is a classic t... Read More

In the Company of Ogres: Funny with an actual story

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In the Company of Ogres by A. Lee Martinez

When I read fantasy comedy, I compare it to Terry Pratchett. In many ways, In the Company of Ogres resembles many of Pratchett's Discworld novels in the sense that a) it actually is quite funny and b) it makes fun of existing fantasy tropes and elements.

A. Lee Martinez, however, has his own distinguishable style which is evident in In the Company of Ogres. His writing style is quite functional and isn't weighed down with flowery prose or detailed descriptions. In fact, perhaps some would say it can be too sparse at times and relies on the reader's familiarity with fantasy clichés.

As for the plot, I was impressed that Martinez manages t... Read More

M is for Magic: Diverse stories by Gaiman

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M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman

M is for Magic's title is an homage to the short story collections of Ray Bradbury and is a worthy successor. (Now if only we had 25 more short story collections to complete the alphabet.) Gaiman's stories in this collection are easy reads that both young readers and adults will enjoy. It has a diverse set of stories, everything from mystery to coming-of-age to horror. There's even a poem that managed to sneak into this collection.

Gaiman’s prose is quite easy to understand yet nonetheless charming. A welcome read for any occasion, although the hefty hardcover price might detract some people from buying it immediately. Personally though, I think it's well worth a hardback purchase.

FanLit thanks Charles Tan from Bibliophile Stalker fo... Read More

Fragile Things: Gaiman short stories and poems

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Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

This collection comes with 31 short stories and poems as well as an introduction that's as compelling as Smoke and Mirrors. Of all of Gaiman's collections, I think this is by far the most superior as it features more of his later work and has a more polished style.

I've also read several of the stories here before in various anthologies but it was great to revisit them as I wasn't the same reader I was several years ago. Reading them today, I enjoyed them more the second time around.

Here's my top three stories: "A Study in Emerald" is a hybrid between Lovecraft and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Gaiman parallels the original Sherlock Holmes story quite well while infusing it with his own unique elements.

"Sunbird," on the other hand... Read More

The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2007

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The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007

In many ways, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007 anthology is a difficult book to review. For one thing, to me and a lot of my reading/writing circle, this is easily the definitive bible when it comes to short stories of the genre. For another, many of the stories that are included in this collection have been featured in other anthologies as well, so there's an overlap in terms of stories featured. But I'll try and talk about what makes this anthology unique from other similar anthologies.

The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror is quite comprehensive about its subject matter, not just featuring short stories but poems and articles. The first dozen pages are articles summarizing the important events that happened in the two genres including the obituaries of the previous year. That’s really qui... Read More

Adventures in the Dream Trade: Rare Neil Gaiman

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Adventures in the Dream Trade by Neil Gaiman

When I first saw Adventures in the Dream Trade, I was genuinely surprised because I never knew it existed. I found it in a specialty bookstore, and was going for a relatively high selling price. Still, thinking that it was a rare Neil Gaiman book, I shelled out the cash for it and I did find out it really was a rare Neil Gaiman book due to its small print-run. And anyone who's read it will know why.

Adventures in the Dream Trade collects various introductions and essays by Gaiman, a few poems, songs, really short fiction (the equivalent tern would be fast-food fiction), and several months worth of blog entries tackling the publication of American Gods. Why do I mention this? Because it shows you who should buy this book. Adventures in the Dream Trade... Read More

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume One

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The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume One edited by Jonathan Strahan

My first and foremost complaint — and this is really a quibble more than anything else — is that the title doesn't tell you what year this anthology belongs to. Which isn't really a problem if you bought it recently but in case you find in the bookstore bin several years down the line, it's nice to know what era this collection represents (in case you don't know the answer, the book was printed in 2007). With that out of the way, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume One is a good collection that draws from both the fantasy and science fiction genres, and I'm really looking forward to the sequel.

Personally, however, because I read a large number of anthologies in 2007, I’ve seen many of these stories before because they’ve been reprinted in numerous ... Read More

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