Rob Weber (GUEST)

ROB WEBER, a regular guest at FanLit, developed a fantasy and science fiction addiction as well as a worrying Wheel of Time obsession during his college years. While the Wheel of Time has turned, the reading habit that continues to haunt him long after acquiring his BSc in environmental science. Rob keeps a blog at Val’s Random Comments.

The House of Shattered Wings: You will be back for more

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The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

In the late 20th century the ruins of the city of Paris are populated by a mix of humans and fallen angels. The angels may have lost God's grace, but they still have power. Their bodies contain magic that can be used by humans and angels alike. A central government, if ever there was one, has disappeared and the upper layers of society is organized into houses. These houses continually vie for influence in a Machiavellian political game. Silverspire, the oldest of these houses, founded ages ago by the very first fallen angel, is now in trouble. Since the disappearance of its founder, its influence has decreased to the point where its enemies feel they have a chance of taking them down a notch. The real nature of the threat eludes Selene, the head of the House of Silverspire, as she is distracted by house politics. An addicted human alchemist, a newly fal... Read More

Slow River: A must-read

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Slow River by Nicola Griffith

Slow River (1995) is Nicola Griffith's second novel and the third one by her I've read. Like her debut Ammonite (1992), it attracted quite a bit of attention. The novel won a Nebula Award in 1996 and has made it into the Gollancz SF Masterworks series. I enjoyed both Hild (2013) and Ammonite an awful lot so this book ended up on the to-read stack right after finishing Ammonite. I didn't know it when I got it, but Slow River has quite a bit of environmental science in it. If I had known earlier this might... Read More

Eye: For dedicated Herbert fans only

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Eye by Frank Herbert

Eye is a short story collection by Frank Herbert and is one of his last works. Published in 1985, the same year his sixth Dune novel Chapterhouse: Dune was published, Eye covers most of his career. I guess you could consider this a “best of” volume. Herbert was not a prolific short fiction writer, especially in his later years, but quite a few stories are still missing from this collection. Like many SF authors he began his career publishing in the genre's big magazines, and quite a few of these stories ended up in this collection. I thought Eye was something of a mixed bag; some of the stories don't achieve the depth many of his novels have, and more or less lean on an interesting tec... Read More

The Ice Owl: A Hugo- and Nebula-nominated novella

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The Ice Owl by Carolyn Ives Gilman

Carolyn Ives Gilman's novella The Ice Owl, originally published in the November/December issue of the magazine Fantasy & Science Fiction, was nominated for (but didn’t win) both the Nebula and Hugo Awards in 2012. The Ice Owl is set in the same universe as Gilman's earlier novella Arkfall (2008). These stories can be read independently.

Thorn is a teenager living in a future where near instantaneous communication is possible but travel is still limited to the speed of light. She and her mother are Wasters. Outcasts in most societies they are part of, and often living in their own ghettos, Wasters are usually seen as trouble, heretics or rebels. Thorn is a teenager but has already... Read More

Prelude to Space: Clarke’s 1951 debut

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Prelude to Space by Arthur C. Clarke

Prelude to Space is the first novel Arthur C. Clarke wrote and is generally not considered as good as Childhood's End (1953), probably the most famous of Clarke's early novels. The publication history of this story is not unusual for the period. Clarke wrote the novel in the space of a month in 1947 but it wasn't until 1951 that the whole novel was published in magazine format by Galaxy Science Fiction. It was followed by a hardcover edition in 1953. What is atypical about it is that the novel does not appear to be based on one of Clarke's short stories. Although one of his lesser works, it has been reprinted numerous times. The edition I read was printed in... Read More

The Ascension Factor: A poor finish to the PANDORA SEQUENCE

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The Ascension Factor by Frank Herbert & Bill Ransom

The Ascension Factor (1988) is the third book Frank Herbert wrote in collaboration with Bill Ransom and the fourth in THE PANDORA SEQUENCE, a series introduced in his novel Destination: Void (1966). It's a series plagued with problems and tragedy. The Jesus Incident (1979), had to be extensively rewritten at the last moment after a copyright issue threatened to block its publication. The Lazarus Effect (1983), was written during the rapidly declining health of Herbert's second wife Beverly. She died less than a year after its publication. Herbert himself did not live to see the publication of The Ascension Factor. He died in February... Read More

The Lazarus Effect: Readable but not memorable

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The Lazarus Effect by Frank Herbert & Bill Ransom

The Lazarus Effect (1983) is part of the PANDORA SEQUENCE that Frank Herbert wrote with Bill Ransom. The series has its origin in Herbert's 1966 novel Destination: Void, of which he published a revised edition in 1978, prior to the release of The Jesus Incident (1979), his first collaboration with Ransom. The Jesus Incident was rough around the edges, mostly because a copyright issue came up that required lots of last-minute rewriting. The Lazarus Effect was written in a less frantic fashion but, interesting enough, The Jesus Incident Read More

Luck of the Wheels: A fitting conclusion

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Luck of the Wheels by Megan Lindholm

Luck of the Wheels (1989) is the final part in Megan Lindholm/Robin Hobb’s Ki and Vandien quartet. I guess you could say this book is the odd one out in the series, having been published several years after the first three, which appeared in quick succession in 1983 and 1984. Lindholm had written a number of other books in the meantime, the incomparable Wizard of the Pigeons among them. These additional years of experience show in Luck of the Wheels. It is the best paced book in the series.

After Ki and Vandien’s adventures in Read More

The Limbreth Gate: Ki and Vandien are two of Lindholm’s most intriguing creations

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The Limbreth Gate by Megan Lindholm

Lindholm's work under this pseudonym is very diverse, but the Ki and Vandien novels are more or less straightforward fantasy. A secondary world with a long, largely unknown history, lots of different sentient races, magic and divine creatures. All the ingredients are present. They are pretty focused on the two protagonists, however. No huge cast of secondary characters and countless side plots. They are very efficiently written. Each book is a complete story, there are no major cliffhangers or unresolved questions; the relationship between Ki and Vandien is what ties these books together. In short, a very different style of fantasy than the books written under the Robin Hobb pseudonym. One of the great mysteries for the reader is... Read More

The Windsingers: Refreshingly mature heroes

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The Windsingers by Megan Lindholm

The Windsingers is the second book in a series of four featuring Ki and Vandien. It was first published in 1984. The first novel, Harpy’s Flight, which was also Lindholm's debut, showed some serious flaws in pacing and structure but I still thought it was an interesting book. In The Windsingers, Lindholm clearly improves in those areas but she loses some of the dynamic between Ki and Vandien. In the end I did think the first novel, Harpy's Flight, was a more entertaining read, even if The Windsingers was better written.

Ki and Vandien are meeting up in the town of Dyal where Ki hopes to find a new cargo to haul. Vandien has been in town for a while and thinks he has come upon a bargain too good to refuse — salvaging a chest from ... Read More

Harpy’s Flight: Robin Hobb’s first novel

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Harpy's Flight by Megan Lindholm

Harpy's Flight (1983) is Megan Lindholm's first novel and the first of a series of four starring the characters Ki and Vandien. I understand that at one time, Lindholm had plans to write more but that never happened. Given the success of Lindholm's writing under the pen name Robin Hobb, I very much doubt it ever will. Lindholm’s novels are very different in style and tone from Hobb’s novels. I love both the epic fantasy of Hobb and the more diverse output of Lindholm, but that is certainly not true for all readers.

Ki is out for revenge. A pair of Harpies have taken her husband and two young children and despite the fact that they can easily take her as well, she is determined to make them feel her loss. Against all odds, Ki survives the climb to the Ha... Read More

Second Foundation: The poorest book in the trilogy

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Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Without a doubt, Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Foundation and Empire left a mark on the genre. They've been read by generations of SF-fans and seven decades after the first Foundation story appeared in in Astounding magazine, the novels are still in print. They may have been the pinnacle of Golden Age SF, but I can't say I thought them great literature. The FOUNDATION novels are big on ideas, but Asimov's style is dreadfully direct and the previous books were in dire need of a good round of editing. Second Foundation is the final novel in the original trilogy. It contains two loosely connected stories. The first was o... Read More

White Mars: A response to KSR’s MARS trilogy

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White Mars by Brian W. Aldiss

While rereading Kim Stanley Robinson's MARS trilogy, books I consider to be among the very best in science fiction, I came across various references to White Mars; Or, The Mind Set Free: A 21st-Century Utopia (1999) by Brian W. Aldiss, written in collaboration with prominent physicists Roger Penrose. Robinson's utopian vision of a terraformed Red Planet is not something everybody would see as ideal or even morally acceptable. In the MARS trilogy Robinson pays a lot of attention to the discussion between what he calls the Reds, a faction opposed to terraforming the planet and convinced of its intrinsic value, and the Green faction who would exploit the plane... Read More

Journeys: Nine stories by Ian R. MacLeod

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Journeys by Ian R. MacLeod

As always with books published by Subterranean Press, Journeys (2010) by Ian R. MacLeod looks stunning. I love the cover art by Edward Miller. The collection contains nine stories, ranging from a few pages to novella length, all of them first published between 2006 and 2010. Personally I feel the longer pieces work better.

Journeys is an appropriate title for this collection, MacLeod takes you to unexpected places with his stories. In many of them, the setting is familiar, often historical, but with a few crucial changes. The collection opens with “The Master Miller's Tale,” one of the longer stories in the collection and a good example of the changes the author weaves into his tales. It is set during the early stages o... Read More

Pushing Ice: Stand-alone hard SF from Reynolds

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Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds

Pushing Ice (2005) is a standalone novel. It is not set in Alastair Reynolds’ REVELATION SPACE universe and as far as I can tell it is not related to any of his other works either. On his website, Reynolds mentions that there may one day be a sequel though. Pushing Ice is space opera on an intimidating scale but, unfortunately, I don't think it gets close to the best the REVELATION SPACE universe has to offer.

The year is 2057 and humanity has escaped the Earth's gravity well. The outer planets and asteroid belt are frequently visited by mining ships, of which the Rockhopper is one. When Saturn's moon Janus inexplicably leaves orbit and heads out of the solar system in the direction of Spica, a star in... Read More

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

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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

Escape from Kathmandu: Four linked stories set in Nepal

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Escape from Kathmandu by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson is primarily known as a science fiction writer, but that category doesn’t fit all of his work. For example, just before he published the novel A Short, Sharp Shock (1990), which could be labeled as surrealistic fantasy, he published Escape from Kathmandu, a collection of four linked novellas set in contemporary Nepal. Three of the novellas — Escape from KathmanduMother Goddess of the World and The True Nature of Shangri-La — were printed in Asimov's in 1986, 1987 and 1989 respectively. The first three can be read independently. The fourth one, The Kingdom Underground, can be read independently as... Read More

Black Hills: A Lakota Indian channels General Custer

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Black Hills by Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons has impressed with the variety of themes and settings he takes on in his novels. He has written science fiction, horror, historical novels, crime and literary fiction. The man's a very versatile writer. Black Hills, like his previous two novels The Terror and Drood, could be considered historical fiction with a clear supernatural theme.

The novel tells the story of the Paha Sapa. His name means Black Hills in Lakota but it is only used by those he is most intimate with; to the rest of the world he is Billy Slow Horse. Born in 1865, Paha Sapa lives through the final days of the independent buffalo-hunting lifestyle of his people. In 1876 he is present when a coalition of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapah... Read More

SFM: Ronald, Vernon, Tregillis, Kowal, Hartley, Deeds

Short Fiction Monday: There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we've read recently that we wanted you to know about.



“And Then, One Day, the Air was Full of Voices” by Margaret Ronald (June 2016, free at Clarkesworld or paperback magazine issue)


Dr. Kostia is a keynote speaker and panel participant in an academic conference. Her specialty is extra-terrestrial intelligence ― specifically, the analysis of some radio-like transmissions from an alien race called the Coronals. About thirty years before, Earth scientists received a signal from the Corona Borealis that rewrote an entire computing cent... Read More

The Memory of Whiteness: Science, music, philosophy

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The Memory of Whiteness by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Memory of Whiteness is Kim Stanley Robinson's third novel, after The Wild Shore and Icehenge. It's a very unusual book, standing out in Robinson's oeuvre. Much of his work deals with science and many of his characters are scientists. In this novel science plays a large role as well, but this time it is not so much the process and the ways it can change the world but rather the world view that is influenced by a scientific theory.

The novel is set in the thirty-third century, some three centuries after a physicist named Arthur Holywelkin forces a paradigm shift in physic by revealing a theory that is the biggest breakthrough in science since Albert Einstein’s. In his later years, Holywelkin devotes his time to building a massive musical instrument known as ... Read More

Icehenge: Makes the reader doubt, puzzle and think

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Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson

Icehenge is Kim Stanley Robinson's second published novel. It was published the same year as his first novel The Wild Shore, the first part in his THREE CALIFORNIAS triptych. The subject of Icehenge is very different from The Wild Shore. It would be selling the book short to say it is a first step towards his popular MARS trilogy because Icehenge is a very good novel in its own right, but fans of the MARS books will find many themes in this book have returned in the trilogy.

On the north pole of Pluto a mysterious construction of ice is found, reminiscent of Stonehenge. Three linked novellas in Icehenge explore the origin of this construct. The f... Read More

When the Great Days Come: Great stories by Gardner Dozois

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When the Great Days Come by Gardner Dozois

Gardner Dozois is probably best known for his work as editor, for which he has won an unprecedented number of Hugo Awards. He was in the editor of Asimov's for twenty years between 1984 and 2004 and has edited an enormous number of anthologies of all kinds, including The Year's Best Science Fiction series, which is up to its 33rd annual edition. There have also been a series of cross-genre anthologies edited with George R.R. Martin that were generally well received. Dozois' own fiction is less well known. He is not a very prolific writer, somewhere around 60 short stories have been published, the first of which appeared in 1966. He has also published three novels, including... Read More

The Songs of Distant Earth: A slightly fantastic SF tale

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The Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur C. Clarke

The Songs of Distant Earth is one of Clarke's later novels, based on a shorter piece of the same name that he wrote in the 1950s. In the foreword Clarke states it is something of a response to the rise of what he calls "space opera" on television and the silver screen (he specifically mentions Star Trek, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas), which according to him are fantasy. I suppose one could see them as such if you stick to the narrow interpretation of science fiction. Personally I never saw the point of trying to define genres and sub-genres, it's pretty obvious it is almost impossible to come up with a definition that would satisfy everyone. To Clarke apparently it matters. He sets himself the task of writing a science fiction novel that portrays interstellar travel realistically. So get rid of your Heisenberg compen... Read More

The Last Theorem: Arthur C. Clarke’s last novel

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The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke & Frederik Pohl

In March 2008 one of the titans of science fiction, Arthur C. Clarke died at the age of 90. At the time he was working on The Last Theorem, a collaboration with another big name in science fiction, the slightly younger Frederik Pohl who died in 2013. Clarke's health would not permit him to do the writing himself so much of the novel was written by Pohl based on an outline and notes by Clarke. Just a few days before he died, Clarke finished reviewing the manuscript and gave it his blessing. Clarke's last novel got quite a bit of attention when it was released. It also got mixed reviews.

The Last Theorem is the story of the life of ... Read More

Platinum Pohl: The Collected Best Stories

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Platinum Pohl: The Collected Best Stories by Frederik Pohl

Platinum Pohl is a career-spanning collection of Frederik Pohl’s best short fiction. Almost every collection of short fiction contains weak stories but I was absolutely blown away by editor James Frenkel's selection of Pohl's work. It is one of the best collections of short fiction I have ever read.

Platinum Pohl contains a total of thirty stories, too many to comment on each of them but I'll name a number of the highlights. The opening story is “The Merchants of Venus,” a novella-length work and the first work than mentions the Heechee, which he would later write a number of novels about. The story deals with the dangers of exploring Venus and how to stay alive on a reasonable income in a high-cost environment. I thought Pohl’s description of Venus very interesting, th... Read More

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