Stefan Raets (RETIRED)

STEFAN RAETS (on FanLit's staff August 2009 — February 2012) reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping. In February 2012, he retired from FanLit to focus on his blog Far Beyond Reality.

Feed: One more zombie novel?

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Feed by Mira Grant

I have grown weary of zombies. In the past five years, everyone started writing zombie novels, apparently out of ennui at the thought of writing yet another variation on vampires, and that was good. But the mass of zombie material all seemed to hit the market at the same time, and it was too much, too undiluted, with too many books that weren’t good enough to be worth reading. Soon I was avoiding any book that purported to be about zombies, because, hey, enough already.

So when Mira Grant’s Feed came on the market, I was not inclined to read it, especially because it was published in that really annoying new taller and thinner paperback format — it’s less comfortable in the hand and it... Read More

The Broken Kingdoms: Adventure and tragedy

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The world has changed over the last several years and the opportunities that are now possible are too hard for Oree to resist, so she left home to seek a new life in Sky. Oree is an artist with a gift for seeing magic, but magic is the only thing she can see. She has set up shop in a promenade section of the great city and has created a pleasant life for herself there amongst friends and Godlings. Things start to get ugly, though, when Oree stumbles upon a dead Godling. The gods have become angry and the religious factions are looking for someone to blame. Oree’s unique abilities and proximity to the crime make her a prime suspect.

When I read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms I was taken completely by surprise. It was one of those rare moments where I read a book ... Read More

Ancillary Justice: Doesn’t read like a first novel at all

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Breq used to be a spaceship, or at least a fragment of the spaceship known as Justice of Toren. The ship controlled innumerable human bodies, known variously as “ancillaries” to the people of the interstellar Radchaai Empire and as “corpse soldiers” to the cultures and planets the Empire has conquered. Those soldiers used to be regular, innocent human beings who, if sufficiently healthy, were slaved to one of the Radchaai ships, their personalities more or less overwritten to become part of one of the Empire’s many-bodied artificial intelligences.

But note: Breq “used” to be a spaceship. Now, she is just Breq, a single person with one body, but with memories of being both an immensely powerful artificial intelligence and its army of soldiers. When we meet Breq, at the start of ... Read More

The Windup Girl: Mixed opinions

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

My Body is Not My Own…

Having just finished Paolo Bacigalupi’s Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel, I’m left rather bereft at how to describe, let alone review, The Windup Girl. I am not a big reader of science-fiction or dystopian thrillers, which means that no obvious comparisons come to mind, and the setting and tone of the novel are so unique (to me at least) that they almost defy description.

Set in a future Thailand where genetically engineered “megodonts” (elephants) provide manual labor and “cheshires” (cats) prowl the streets, the world’s population struggles against a bevy of diseases brought on by all the genetic tampering that’s been going on. Oil has long since run... Read More

The Two of Swords: A slow start, but worth getting into

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The Two of Swords (Parts 1-5) by K.J. Parker

I’ve made it no secret over the years that I’m a big fan of K.J. Parker, purveyor of quirky and highly intelligent fantasy, formerly a mysterious entity whose real name or even gender was unknown but recently revealed (to my unending surprise) as comedic fantasy author Tom Holt. If you haven’t read Parker yet, stop here and go read Sharps now. You can thank me later.

K.J. Parker’s newest venture is a digital serial novel entitled The Two of Swords. I don’t have exact word counts, and the installments vary somewhat in length anyway, but they feel like short-to-medium novellas — the kind of thing you can read... Read More

Persona: A novel with many strengths and virtually no weaknesses

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Persona by Genevieve Valentine

Persona by Genevieve Valentine is an excellent novel. This probably will come as no surprise to those of you who have read the author’s two previous, critically acclaimed novels, Mechanique and The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, but as a newcomer to Valentine’s works I was quite blown away. (I should probably add that, based on feedback from friends and on those two books’ blurbs, Persona appears to be very different from her earlier work.)

Persona starts off in near-future Paris, where Suyana Sapaki is about to cast a vote in the International Assembly (IA). Suyana is the “Face” representing her country in the IA, which means she has virtually zero decision-making power: she is a figurehead, a glorified spokesperson who s... Read More

Touch: A nearly perfect thriller

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Touch by Claire North

Touch, by Claire North, took me completely by surprise. I’d never heard of Claire North. (Yes, I know. More about that later.) I hadn’t seen much pre-release buzz about the book. I don’t think I’d ever read a book from (Hachette imprint) Redhook before. I frankly thought the blurb sounded a bit too standard-horror-ish, but I picked it up anyway to try a few pages and see if it could draw me in.

Am I ever glad I did. Touch is a gloriously dark and almost perfectly executed novel. (More about that “almost” later, too.) It’s so good that I set out to get the author’s first novel, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, even before I finished Touch... Read More

Soda Pop Soldier: A poor imitation of better media options

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Soda Pop Soldier by Nick Cole

Soda Pop Soldier essentially takes the e-sports concept (DOTA 2, Starcraft, etc.) that offers the promise of making buckets of money by playing video games to talented gamers, and mixes it up with a heavy dose of corporatization (well, a heavier dose than it already has) and a heaping serving of teenage boy wish fulfillment.

See, gamer PerfectQuestion (yes, that’s his name) fights for ColaCorp in an online wargame called WarWorld, where other megacorporations battle each other for dominance in the real world of advertising. That’s right: somehow, these mega-companies have agreed to tie the possibility of advertising on, say, the Times Square Jumbotron to the level of success a bunch of gamers have in a virtual Modern Warfare-style war game. At the same time, the battles are broadcast successfully to millions of viewers... Read More

Hurricane Fever: Fast action amid climate change

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Hurricane Fever by Tobias Buckell

I very much enjoyed Tobias Buckell’s 2012 SF novel Arctic Rising, which was set on a near-future Earth dramatically affected by global warming. As much as I loved that novel’s main character Anika, I mentioned in my review that I wouldn’t mind reading a novel set in the same world but featuring one of its two excellent supporting characters, Vy or Roo.

Lo and behold, just about two years later, Buckell delivers Hurricane Fever, starring former Caribbean Intelligence Group operative Prudence “Roo” Jones, who made a brief but memorable appearance in the first novel. I’m happy to report that Hurricane Fever is another excellent near-future cli-fi/spy-fi/techno-thriller novel ... Read More

Signal to Noise: Mixtapes and magic

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Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

In Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s debut novel Signal to Noise, the 1980s are almost over, and Meche is a teenager in Mexico City doing all those random stupid teenager things we all did back then: listening to music all night, riding around on the back of friends’ motorcycles, and casting magic spells in dilapidated factories.

Meche’s dad is trying to make a living as a musician, which in practice works out to spending too much time in bars and not enough time with his family. Meche, already an unpopular girl who gets bullied, escapes into the music her dad introduces her to, and into her friendships with Sebastian and Daniela.

Then, when a bully pushes her too far, she discovers that there’s magic in music …

If I still had to choose titles for my reviews, the one for Signal to... Read More

Evensong: A slow start with a fantastic payoff

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Evensong by John Love

In early 2012, John Love made some serious waves with his debut novel Faith, a critically acclaimed space opera that was about as dark as anything I’d read in the genre. Faith was a novel many reviewers expected to see on Best-of-2012 lists and final award ballots, but instead it disappeared without much noise at all. Whether that was due to the novel’s admittedly disturbing content, or its early January release date, or the fact that all of this happened in the early days of Night Shade Books’ well-documented collapse, no one knows.

So now it’s early 2015, and John Love’s second novel Evensong just came out in early January, almost three years to... Read More

Impulse: A familiar throwback to the Golden Age of sci-fi

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Impulse by Dave Bara

Impulse is Dave Bara’s debut novel, published earlier this month by DAW. The cover copy starts off like this:

Following in the tradition of such top science fiction writers as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Gordon Dickson, Frank Herbert and Joe Haldeman, Impulse, the first novel of THE LIGHTSHIP CHRONICLES, launches readers on a star-spanning journey of discovery, diplomacy and danger.

Based on the name... Read More

The Galaxy Game: A worthy sequel to The Best of All Possible Worlds

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The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord

The Galaxy Game is Barbadian author Karen Lord’s third novel, following the critically acclaimed and award-winning Redemption in Indigo and last year’s well-received The Best of All Possible Worlds.

Something I want to get out of the way right from the start: while it’s not stated anywhere on the book’s cover, The Galaxy Game is the sequel to The Best of All Possible Worlds. I very much wish this had been made more clear from the onset, not for me (as I’ve read The Best of All Possible Worlds) but for any unsuspecting readers who haven’t. The book takes place in the same fictional universe, a few years after the conclusi... Read More

Raising Steam: A low point in the DISCWORLD series

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Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

The latest entry in Terry Pratchett’s sprawling DISCWORLD series, Raising Steam, is an example of what I call the “innovation” series-within-the-series. Just like there are sets of books that focus on specific characters and areas of the Discworld, there’s an increasingly large set of books that take on specific technological innovations entering the fabric of Discworld society.

We’ve seen this as far back as 1990’s Moving Pictures (in which the movie industry hit the Discworld) and 1994’s Soul Music (rock and roll, or as Pratchett calls it, “music with rocks in it”). Recently, Pratchett seems to be on a roll with this type of narrative, having introduced the character Moist Von Lipwig and then covered, in relatively short order, the post... Read More

Doughnut: Sometimes you just need a good laugh

Readers’ average rating:

Doughnut by Tom Holt

Theo Bernstein accidentally put a decimal point one place to the left instead of the right and, thusly, caused the Very Very Large Hadron Collider to explode, thereby disintegrating an entire Alp and becoming one of the most hated men alive. Coincidentally, Shliemann Brothers, the company that held all his investments, went bust at just about the same time, so, well, things aren’t going great for Theo.

After Theo receives an apple, a seemingly empty bottle and a small pink powder compact as part of an inheritance from his friend and former physics professor Pieter van Goyen, he ends up working at a huge but mostly empty hotel. There, he accidentally stumbles into what appears to be a parallel universe, and from that point on, things start getting weird…

Doughnut is the first novel I’ve read by Tom Holt. Even though it... Read More

Range of Ghosts: Best fantasy novel I’ve read all year

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Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

This review turned out a bit rambly, but I’m too lazy to self-edit today, so I’m going to cut to the chase and place my overall opinion right up front for anyone who doesn’t feel like reading over a thousand words of enthusiastic rambling:

Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear is the best fantasy novel I’ve read all year, and you should read it too.

The setting of Range of Ghosts is a fantasy version of a place that vaguely resembles Central Asia around the time of the dissolution of the Mongol Empire. Now, there’s a lot more going on than that, and you don’t need any familiarity with that era to read this novel. This is not the “quarter turn to the fantastical” retelling of history you’ll find in the (excellent) novels of Guy Gavriel ... Read More

Parasite: Different opinions

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Parasite by Mira Grant

Mira Grant is the science fiction side of Seanan McGuire, the fantasy writer responsible for the OCTOBER DAYE and INCRYPTID fantasy series. Her last outing was the NEWSFLESH trilogy, which I loved (especially the first book, Feed). Now she’s published the first novel in the PARASITOLOGY duology, Parasite. And it’s a doozy.

Parasitology open... Read More

Equations of Life: A reheated mish-mash

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Equations of Life by Simon Morden

I picked up Equations of Life, the first novel in Simon Morden’s SAMUIL PETROVITCH series, after receiving a copy of his latest novel The Curve of the Earth for review. The new novel is the fourth one set in the series, but it came billed as a good point to get started if you missed the first three books, which form a trilogy of sorts. Still, being somewhat obsessive about these things, I decided to go back and read the first book rather than jump in at The Curve of the Earth.

Alas. After reading Equations of Life, I’m not sure if I’m interested in reading the rest. It’s not that this is a bad book per se. It’s just that it didn’t really offer me anything I haven’t seen elsewhere before.

The best part of Equations of Life is its main character Samuil P... Read More

When We Wake: I could do with more YA like this

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When We Wake by Karen Healey

I read some great YA novels last year, but also a few less than impressive ones. In my reviews, I explained my reservations about the novels I didn’t like in some detail. At one point, I started to wonder whether I was being too hard on them, because, after all, those books are aimed at a younger audience. Is it fair to set the same expectations for YA as for books aimed at mature readers? Looking back, I even mentioned in some reviews that I clearly wasn’t the target demographic for these novels and that someone who is closer to the YA age range would probably enjoy them more.

So, thinking about those reviews now, I’m wondering: was I just making excuses for poor writing? Shouldn’t a novel feature interesting, complex characters and an original plot whether it’s YA or not? There are good books and bad books in any genre. Letting YA get away with predictability... Read More

Man in the Empty Suit: Did Not Finish

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Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell

The protagonist in Sean Ferrell’s Man in the Empty Suit has seen and done it all. Thanks to his ability to travel in time, he’s cruised all the way up and down the course of human history. There’s not much that’ll get him excited anymore. Every year, he travels to the year 2071, the 100th anniversary of his own birth, to celebrate his birthday with dozens of younger and older versions of himself. It’s the world’s most exclusive party: only he and other versions of himself are invited.

However, on the year he turns 39, things don’t go exactly as planned: he discovers the body of his 40-year-old self, apparently murdered by a gunshot to the head. Surrounded by alternate versions of himself in varying states of intoxication, his mission is clear: he has to find out who murdered his one-year-older self, before it’s too late.
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Damocles: Nothing stands out

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Damocles by S.G. Redling 

Damocles by S.G. Redling is a charming but flawed twist on first contact stories, the twist being that, in this case, the humans are the aliens who are landing on a faraway planet after a long period of cryogenic sleep. They are attempting to trace the origins of a mysterious message from an ancient race that claims to have originally seeded the Earth. Upon landing, the small human team discovers a humanoid race called the Dideto and becomes the subject of intense study.

Damocles switches back and forth between two points of view. Meg is the human team’s linguist and alien contact protocol specialist. Most of the novel describes her attempts to start and improve communication with Loul, a Dideto who originally posited the existence of alien life but was ostracized for it — until those aliens happened to land ... Read More

The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination: For a dose of crazy genius

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The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination edited by John Joseph Adams

The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination is the latest themed anthology edited by John Joseph Adams — and it’s another good one. This time, Adams has collected a set of short stories featuring the hero’s (or often superhero’s) traditional antagonist: the mad genius, the super-villain, the brilliant sociopath who wants to remold the world in his own image — or occasionally, maybe, just be left alone in his secret lair to conduct spine-tingling experiments that, as an unfortunate side-effect, may cause drastically rearranged geography, rampant mutation, or major extinction events.

Under the editorial direction of John Joseph Adams, this anthology offers an impressively varied view on this archetypical character. Some stories refer back to mad geniuses you’ll be familiar with (Fran... Read More

The Darwin Elevator: It’s not dumb

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The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough

Karin Kross just posted an excellent piece on Tor.com about “dumb” action movies, nominally a review of Pacific Rim (which I haven’t seen) but with broader application to anything we tend to label as “dumb”:

Respectfully, I would like to disagree. Or at least, insist that we stop using the word dumb. Simple? Sure. Uncomplicated? Absolutely. Spectacular, in the truest sense of the word? Hell yes. But none of these things are dumb.

The rest of the article is worth reading for SFF readers, even if you haven’t seen Pacific Rim, because I believe many of us have the same tendency to label action-packed novels with the term “dumb” or a variant thereof. It’s as nonsensical to me as the term “guilty pleasure,” because really folks, i... Read More

The Beautiful Land: Plot is utterly ridiculous, characters are awesome

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The Beautiful Land by Alan Averill

The Beautiful Land, by Alan Averill,is one of those books that I could mostly enjoy as I go along thanks to some snappy dialogue and likable main characters placed in some interesting situation, but always with the nagging feeling in the back of my head that things just aren’t holding together as they should be, that the whole underlying structure is just a little shaky and were one of those moments of witty repartee to suddenly go awry, the whole thing just might collapse underneath me. The Beautiful Land never did, not wholly, but it was definitely teetering by the latter third or so of the novel and though I ended up have a good time with it, it didn’t leave me feeling totally satisfied, especially if I thought about it for very long.

The story opens up with a bang, as our main character Tak, a big star thanks to a reality show wh... Read More

Trafalgar: A weird and wonderful book

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Trafalgar by Angélica Gorodischer

Trafalgar by Angélica Gorodischer is a wonderful and deceptively complex little book that will play havoc with your mind in general and any preconceived genre expectations you may have in particular. I highly recommend grabbing it for that reason alone, but read on if you need more convincing.

Angélica Gorodischer is the Argentine author of more than twenty books, only two of which have been translated into English thus far. The first one of these was Kalpa Imperial, translated by Ursula K. Le Guin, no le... Read More

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