Nathan Okerlund

NATHAN OKERLUND joined FanLit in October 2017. Unbeknownst to all, including himself, Nathan has been preparing for the role of "reviewer of fantasy novels" since he first read Watership Down thirty-odd years ago. He is especially fond of Gene Wolfe, Jack Vance, Steven Brust, Neil Gaiman, and books that have to be read twice to be understood at all, but will happily read anything which does not actually attempt to escape the nightstand. When not occupied with the fantastic he takes brains apart to see how they work, as a postdoctoral fellow studying neurodegeneration, and supports his wife and daughter in their daily heroics.

Spinning Silver: We all love this

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Reposting to include Taya and Nathan's new reviews.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Let’s get this out of the way early. Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver (2018) is not perfect. It’s a little overlong, with a bit of a pacing issue about two-thirds of the way through. Beyond that, other problems include ... no, wait. I forgot. There are no other problems. And I lifted up each and every page to check under them. Zip. Nada. Nothing. So yeah, the biggest problem with Spinning Silver is kind of like the problem you have when the waiter brings out your chocolate cake dessert, and it’s a little bit bigger than you were planning on. Oh, the humanity.

My marketing info calls this a “retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin fairytale,”... Read More

Free Live Free: No rent, but you’ll have to pay in brain cells

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Free Live Free by Gene Wolfe

First of all, let me lay a few cards on the table: Gene Wolfe is my favorite science-fiction author and might be my favorite author, period. I’d give something like fifteen of his books five-star reviews; the only other author who comes close to that is Jack Vance.

Free Live Free (1984) is one of his two books that I just. Don’t. Get. (Castleview is the other.) I’ve read it at least three times, I’ve puzzled over the explanatory synopsis of one character’s actions at the end (I believe the publisher insisted on its inclusion), I’ve read a couple of essays commenting on it, and I still have no clear idea how most of the story connects to ... Read More

SFM: Borges, McDermott, Tidhar, Peynado, Larson

Short Fiction Monday: Our exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about. 

“Death and the Compass” by Jorge Luis Borges (1954, free online version)

When Edgar Allen Poe goes in for creating an all-divining detective, you get "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"; when Gene Wolfe does it, you get "The Detective of Dreams"; when Jorge Luis Borges does it, you end up with "Death and the Compass". No disrespect to Poe or Wolfe, who are both among the gr... Read More

Paternus: Wrath of Gods: More myths in a faster blender

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Paternus: Wrath of Gods by Dyrk Ashton

Paternus: Wrath of Gods (2018) is the second book in Dyrk Ashton’s PATERNUS series, following Paternus: Rise of Gods. In that book Fiona Patterson and her would-be boyfriend Zeke were wrenched out of their fairly ordinary Ohio teenager lives and thrust into a war of gods — small “g” gods, actually the offspring of the Paternus of the title, whose past deeds form the basis of most human mythology. (It’s not a major plot point — at least, not yet — but at least two of these “gods” are perfectly sincere Christians. I’m not quite sure where Mr. Ashton is going with that, but I do hope to find out.)

... Read More

Paternus: Rise of Gods: All the myths ever, stuffed into a speeding blender

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Paternus: Rise of Gods by Dyrk Ashton

Paternus: Rise of Gods (2016) is described in the first line of its Amazon page as being “American Gods meets the X-Men,” which isn’t a bad five-and-a-hyphen word summary, really. By the time you get to “Sumerian/Akkadian/Greek/Aztec/Norse/etc./etc./etc., gods are really all the same people and they’re the children of a guy who’s like Ego from Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2,” you’ve more than lost in brevity and wit what you’ve made up for in accuracy. Still, gaining in accuracy is worth something, and since I have more than five words of space available, well, that’s my one-sentence summary of the background of the book. The central conceit of the story is that the divine figures of human history are the ch... Read More

New York 2140: KSR imagines a future NYC

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New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson is among the best there is at hard science fiction; he can write characters who feel like real people and give you ideas that keep you thinking well after you’ve set the book down. Unfortunately, New York 2140 (2017) is not up to the mark of his best work; fortunately, that still leaves plenty of room for it to be enjoyable and thought-provoking.

New York 2140 is, among many other things, a love letter to New York, or, as it is known in 2140, SuperVenice; the chapter titles and a number of references throughout (Archy and Mehitabel, anyone?) reference the city’s past (and, from our point of view, fut... Read More

SFM: 2018 Locus Award finalists

Today's Short Fiction Monday column features all of the 2018 Locus Award finalists for short fiction. The Locus Award winners will be announced by Connie Willis during Locus Award weekend, June 22 - June 24, 2018.

NOVELLAS:

In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle (2017)

Claudio, a middle-aged curmudgeonly farmer living in a remote area of the Italian countryside, has been a standoffish loner since his wife left him decades ago. He’s satisfied with his current lifestyle, taking care of his land and his animals, and writing poetry that he shares with no one.

Everything changes one morning when a unicorn shows up on his farm. The pure and beautiful unicorn inspires C... Read More

Belgarath the Sorcerer & Polgara the Sorceress: Great companion pieces

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Belgarath the Sorcerer & Polgara the Sorceress by David and Leigh Eddings

As a reviewer I find it a bit challenging to justify my review of these books; they are exactly what they say on the tin. If you like Belgarath and Polgara, you’ll like these books. If you don’t, you won’t. If you don’t know who they are, don’t read them (but you might consider THE BELGARIAD, which contains the background you would need).

If you’re like me and read book reviews just because, well, look! It’s something in print! Let’s read it! — please do read on and get a few of my thoughts. But the functional part of the review is already over.

As you might guess just from the titles, Belg... Read More

The Two of Swords: Much to admire across the series

Reposting to include Nathan's review of the new format for THE TWO OF SWORDS.

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The Two of Swords: Volumes One, Two, and Three by K. J. Parker

Reading any of K.J. Parker’s books will reveal that he is deeply skeptical of human nature, very much including the feelings and ideals that usually get the best press. He passed his witheringly critical eye over romantic love in the ENGINEER trilogy, platonic friendship in The Company, and in THE TWO OF SWORDS series, idealistic devotion to a cause and rationalism ... Read More

SFM: Prasad, Wahls, Pinsker, Dick, Kressel

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Several 2017 Nebula short fiction nominees are reviewed in today's column.

A Series of Steaks by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (2017, free at Clarkesworld, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue). 2017 Nebula award nominee (novelette)

In this near-future SF novelette, 3-D printing has become so advanced that a “bioprinter” can mass-produce copies of food. In any criminal forgery case, the best forgeries are the ones that never get noticed, and Helena Li Yuanhui of Splendid Beef Enterprises, a one-woman business in Nanjing, China, is an expert at it. She keeps her business small and the quality of her gray market meat forger... Read More

Unsong: Celestial spheres and whale puns

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Unsong by Scott Alexander

Sometimes, you pick up a book expecting to know what’s in it, and expecting that you’ll like it, and your expectations are met and everyone goes home happy. This scenario is at least good, often excellent, sometimes superlative, and by this time in my book-reading life that’s usually what I get.

But there’s a peculiar kind of pleasure in picking up a book which you have no expectations for, good or bad, putting it down after the first chapter, and saying, “I don’t know what’s going on here, but I think I like it.”

Scott Alexander’s Unsong (2017) fell into that category for me, and that’s a big part of what makes it one of my favorite books this year.

Unsong is set in a world which... Read More

Merlin’s Bones: Needs fleshing out

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Merlin’s Bones by Fred Saberhagen

We raided the used bookstore the other day and this was one of my prizes; as sometimes happens when I visit the used bookstore and pick up a book by an author whose name I consider a guarantee of quality, I discovered when I got home that I had actually read Merlin’s Bones before — perhaps fifteen years ago, in this case. It took about three chapters to be sure, by which time I was merrily embarked and enjoying the story, so I didn’t mind. I did have, however, a small uneasiness — I recalled having been unimpressed with my previous read, though I didn’t remember why.

The story is set in two times: the first is medieval England, where a boy named Amby and his troupe of traveling players are attempting to escape the attentions of a warlord who their (the troupe’s) leader insulted on-stage and find themselves in a ver... Read More

The Devil in a Forest: “Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”

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The Devil in a Forest by Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe is different from most of us — at least, he’s certainly not like me. When I hear the song “Good King Wenceslas” I may wonder idly when the Feast of Stephen is (it’s December 26th, as I finally learned two years ago), if he was a real person (he was, although he was actually a duke) and, perhaps, if he was as good as all that (I have no idea). Gene Wolfe heard “Good King Wenceslas” and decided to write this book.

The Devil in a Forest is not a Christmas story, though it is a Christian story; the action takes place near and on the Mountain, within the “forest fence” and near a shrine to Saint Agnes, and that is, as far as I can tell, the end of the direct influence of the song on the story. As the story opens, a... Read More

SFM: Poe, Bradbury, Danvers, Mamatas, James, Parypinski

Short Fiction Monday: Happy Halloween from Fantasy Literature and SFM! Our column today has an extra-large serving of horror stories. 


“The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe (1846, free at Project Gutenberg)

Our narrator Montresor, an Italian nobleman, explains ― in a suspiciously vague way ― how his friend Fortunato has mortally offended and insulted him. Montresor sets himself on a course of implacable revenge ... but he wants to do so in a way that Fortunato understands that Montresor is the source of revenge, but without being caught or punished.

Montresor and Fortunato meet during a carnival festival ― which at first seems by chance, but then you find out that Montresor has set up the situation so that all of his... Read More

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