Tadiana Jones

TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

Summer Frost: An intelligent exploration of concerns about AI

Summer Frost by Blake Crouch

A woman steals a Maserati and takes off for a mansion north of San Francisco, on a remote stretch of Highway 1 on the coast of California. Another person, Riley, follows her into the home and up to a bathroom, where a man in the tub is dying of knife wounds. As Riley pursues the woman, the tension is offset somewhat by feeling that something about the scene is off. A smell is described as “almost right.” The woman that Riley is chasing, Maxine or “Max,” speaks in toddler-like language.

Riley, the VP of Non-Player Character (NPC) Development for a video game developer, realizes that Max, a minor video character in a virtual reality game, isn’t accepting the role of murder victim to her occult-obsessed husband within the game. Instead, after being murdered 2,039 times by her husband during the development of the Lost Coast game, Max has decided to resist her fate and is trying... Read More

Small Spaces: A delicious autumn read

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review:

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

I fell in love with Small Spaces (2018) from the first paragraph. Before I even realized this was the same Katherine Arden whose adult fiction I’ve been meaning to read for years, and before I got caught up in the richly drawn characters and the spooky plot, I was smitten by this:
October in East Evansburg, and the last warm sun of the year slanted red through the sugar maples. Olivia Adler sat nearest the big window in Mr. Easton’s math class, trying, catlike, to fit her entire body into a patch of light. She wished she were on the other side of the glass. You don’t waste October sunshine. Soon the old autumn sun would bed down in cloud blankets, and there would be weeks of gray rain before it finally decided to sno... Read More

Randomize: Dazzling science doesn’t make up for a mundane plot

Randomize by Andy Weir

Nick Chen is an IT guy on a mission: when quantum computers become available to consumers, he tries to convince the managers at the Babylon Hotel and Casino where he works to shut down their keno lounge, knowing that quantum computers can quickly crack the random-number generators of the keno game system. When he fails to persuade them, he uses his override passwords to shut down the keno game, which quickly gets the attention of Edwin Rutledge, the head of the casino. Eventually convinced by Chen’s arguments, Rutledge authorizes Chen to buy the casino its own quantum computer for $300,000 (“We fight quantum with quantum”).

A couple of days later, a new QuanaTech quantum computer is delivered and installed by a salesman, Chen sets up airtight security systems around it, and all is now well with the Babylon keno game … or, perhaps not. It turns out that the QuanaTech salesman is married to a brilliant... Read More

Emergency Skin: A fun story with a serious message

Emergency Skin by N.K. Jemisin

A single spaceman arrives on Earth (which he calls "Tellus," a Latin word similar to Terra) on an important mission from a far-off planet that was colonized by a group of rich white men who left Earth centuries ago. The spaceman, as well as the collective AI that was implanted in his brain and constantly speaks to him in his mind, expected to find a world completely barren of life, decimated by climate change and toxic pollution. What they actually find is far different, and both the man and his chatty AI have huge problems adjusting to this new reality.

But can the man still fulfill his mission? If he succeeds, he’s been promised a beautiful pale (read: Aryan) skin when he returns home. On his planet, everyone except those in the highest class of society wears a featureless, high-tech artificial skin called a composite. But this man’s composite has the ability, in an emergency, to turn into huma... Read More

Pines: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave

Pines by Blake Crouch

Apparently I’ve been living under a rock or, perhaps, in an isolated cottage in a pine forest, since I had never heard of Wayward Pines — the town, the trilogy of novels by Blake Crouch, or the Fox TV series based on these novels — before I picked up Pines (2012). In this case, being oblivious was a great thing, since the mystery wasn’t spoiled. I think it would be possible to enjoy reading Pines already knowing what the big secret is, but certainly not knowing was a major reason I found it so compelling.

A man regains consciousness by the side of a road in a small town, bruised and battered after an apparent car crash, and with temporary amnesia about most of the details of his life, and no ID on his person. He meets a few of the residents in town, who seem o... Read More

SHORTS: Carroll, Newitz, Clark, Andrews, VanderMeer

SHORTS is a column exploring some of the free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.

“For He Can Creep” by Siobhan Carroll (2019, free at Tor.com, 99c on Kindle)

This short story, told entirely from a cat’s point of view, is a must-read for feline fans! Jeoffry the cat belongs to a mad poet who is confined to an insane asylum in 18th century Great Britain. Jeoffry regularly battles the imps and demons who torment the inmates at the asylum. But when Satan himself enters the picture, planning to use the poet’s abilities to bring about the end of the world, Jeoffry just might be overmatched.

Siobhan Carroll drew me in with this whimsical and insightful tale. She tells this story from Jeoffry’s point of view, capturing the ... Read More

Sapphire Flames: The siren takes the lead

Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews

Sapphire Flames (2019) is the fourth novel in Ilona Andrews' HIDDEN LEGACY urban fantasy/romance series, in which powerful magical families control most of society. (Note: You really do have to start at the beginning of this series, with Burn for Me; each book builds on what came before.) Having wrapped up the romance of Nevada Baylor and Connor Rogan in the first three books in this series, Sapphire Flames and the interim novella that precedes it, Diamond Fire, shift the focus of the series to a new main character, Nevada's younger sister Catalina Baylor, a so-called ... Read More

Walking to Aldebaran: Literary musings in an alien cavern of horrors

Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I never know what to expect from Adrian Tchaikovsky, but he’s always entertaining. Walking to Aldebaran (2019) is unlike anything I’ve read from Tchaikovsky to date, a powerful, literary SF novella with an edgy, dark sense of humor and a strain of horror that gradually intensifies until its shocking ending.

British astronaut Gary Rendell is part of an international space team sent from Earth to explore a moon-sized, alien-made object ― officially called the Artefact, unofficially called the Frog God because of its appearance in photos ― that a space probe has found lurking in the outer reaches of our solar system. Through a series of events that are gradually unfolded to the reader, Rendell is now wandering alone inside the cold, endless, crypt-like tunnels i... Read More

Court of Fives: The dangers of imperialism, racism, and ambition

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Court of Fives by Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott has a well-deserved reputation for writing excellent science-fiction and fantasy for adults. Her characters, world-building, and societies are not only entertaining but well-crafted. It seems only natural that, at some point in her career, she would try her hand at Young Adult fiction. The result is Court of Fives, the first in a planned fantasy trilogy which is sure to appeal to younger readers as well as Elliott’s established fan base. While I’ve seen the novel described as “YA meets Game of Thrones,” Elliott herself has said, “I prefer Little Women meets American Ninja Warrior,” which is far more relevant to my personal interests (and a more unique combination). Read More

The Ten Thousand Doors of January: Go read it now

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

The Ten Thousand Doors of January (2019), by Alix E. Harrow, is one of the most beautiful books you will read in 2019. It may be one of the most beautiful books you’ll read in your lifetime. When I say it’s beautiful, I don’t simply mean the prose and the imagery, although those both are gorgeous. I mean that this is a beautiful story. The journey of January Scaller, set against the USA’s Long Gilded Age, is a story of plausible hope, of learning to use your own power, and a story of the power of stories.

January Scaller is an “in-between” girl, the ward of the wealthy, powerful and mysterious Cornelius Locke. She is always conscious of her tenuous status.
Sometimes I felt like an item in Mr. Locke’s collection labeled "January Scaller... Read More

The Bastard Brigade: Sabotaging Hitler’s atomic bomb program

The Bastard Brigade: The True Story of the Renegade Scientists and Spies Who Sabotaged the Nazi Atomic Bomb by Sam Kean

Sam Kean, who wrote the delightfully informative Caesar’s Last Breath in 2017 about the topic of gases, including a section on nuclear bombs, delves more deeply into the history of the atomic bomb in The Bastard Brigade (2019). Though the subtitle might lead one to presume that it focuses solely on the Allies’ Alsos mission, the group charged with thwarting Nazi Germany’s development of the atomic bomb, this book is much more wide-ranging in its topics. The Bastard Brigade is a sweeping account of the development of nuclear physics prior to and during WWII, the race to develop a working atomic bomb, and finally the Alsos mission itself.

Part I, set during ... Read More

The Swarm: A longwinded build-up to an alien invasion

The Swarm by Orson Scott Card &  Aaron Johnston

Orson Scott Card's ENDERVERSE has grown to sixteen novels and counting, along with several novellas and short stories, since he published Ender’s Game in 1985 (or if you want to go back even further, since the original “Ender’s Game” short story was published in Analog magazine in 1977). Andrew Wiggin, or Ender, is the main character in only a few of these works; others focus on his brother Peter Wiggin, Ender’s protégé Bean, and other new or secondary characters from Ender’s Game. Which brings us to Mazer Rackham, the half-Māori war hero who plays a brief but pivotal role in Ender’s Game.

I... Read More

The Weapon Makers: The Isher weapon shops shift from defense to offense

The Weapon Makers by A.E. van Vogt


The Weapon Makers (1943), currently nominated for a 1944 Retro Hugo award, is the sequel to the better-known The Weapon Shops of Isher. As discussed in my review of The Weapon Shops of Isher, A.E. van Vogt was fond of creating fix-up novels based on his earlier works, and the creation and publication history of both of these novels in his EMPIRE OF ISHER duology is complicated. The Weapon Shops of Isher was published in its final form in 1951, several years after The Weapon Makers, but The Weapon Makers is set several years after The We... Read More

The Weapon Shops of Isher: An imaginative take on the right to bear arms

The Weapon Shops of Isher by A.E. van Vogt

I first came across the 1942 short story “The Weapon Shop” by A.E. van Vogt in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929–1964, a fantastic collection of some of the best short fiction from the pre-Nebula years that was instrumental in shaping my taste for science fiction when I was an impressionable teen. A few years later I came across the full-length novel The Weapon Shops of Isher (1951) in the two-volume collection Read More

The Brink: Superficial and implausible SF horror

The Brink by James S. Murray & Darren Wearmouth

Human monsters take precedence over the creature type of monsters in The Brink (2019), the sequel to last year’s SF horror novel Awakened. (Some spoilers for the first book are in this review, but are also in the publisher’s blurb for this book, so they’re nearly impossible to avoid.) Awakened was pulpy fun if you like SF horror and mysterious, murderous threats lurking beneath the surface of the earth. The Brink mostly gives us Albert Van Ness, a diabolical mastermind of dubious sanity who was apparently imported straight from an old James Bond movie. The creatures are still there, but in a diminished r... Read More

SHORTS: Miller, Leiber, Clement, Brackett

SHORTS: In this week's column we review several short fiction works that we've read recently, including three more of the current Retro Hugo nominees from 1943.

“Galatea” by Madeline Miller (2013, $3.99 on Kindle; anthologized in xo Orpheus, edited by Kate Bernheimer)

In the Roman myth of Read More

The Citadel of Weeping Pearls: A pearl of a mystery in the Xuya universe

The Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard’s UNIVERSE OF XUYA series of novellas and short stories has been nominated for Best Series in the 2019 Hugo awards, for very good reason. The detailed worldbuilding and thoughtful writing pull the reader into a world with an alternative history, where Chinese ships were the first to discover the Americas, drastically changing our history and leading to a space age future where Chinese and Vietnamese galactic empires hold great power and intelligent mindships interact with humans outside of the ship through projected avatars. De Bodard’s website has an extremely useful page that includes a brief description of the Xuya (“Dawn Shore”) universe and a hand... Read More

Awakened: Camera-ready SF horror adventure

Awakened by James S. Murray & Darren Wearmouth

Grady McGowan has been logging lots of overtime, running a tunnel-boring machine beneath the Hudson River for the massive Z Train subway line extension that will link New York City to New Jersey with an underground express train. They’re even building a state-of-the-art underwater Visitors’ Pavilion in the middle of the Upper Bay. It’s hard work for Grady, but everything is going well … until a huge hole opens up underneath Grady and his machine.

Three years later, the mayor of NYC, Tom Cafferty, is in the Pavilion, presiding over the opening ceremony and inaugural run of the Z Train. The President of the U.S. is a surprise guest (though not a welcome one from Cafferty’s point of view) and Cafferty’s wife Ellen is one of the honored guests on the Z Train heading to the Pavilion from Jersey City. There’s a delay. A shriek over the loudspeaker. And then the train slowl... Read More

Mary Poppins: Perhaps not what you were expecting

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

Having recently seen Saving Mr. Banks, a film that purports to examine the strained relationship between author P.L. Travers and film-maker Walt Disney when it came to adapting Mary Poppins for the big screen, it was only natural that I finally got around to my long overdue reading of the classic children's story Mary Poppins.

Having grown up with the Disney film, it's quite shocking to realize how little one resembles the other. Of course, I knew there would be significant differences — the film is filled with animation and musical numbers, for a start. But I was surprised by how many of the most iconic elements of the Disney film are completely absent from the novel: there is no line of potential governesses being swept away by the East Wind, no "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," no dancing chimney s... Read More

A Sword Named Truth: A feast for Sartorias-deles fans

A Sword Named Truth by Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith has been writing fantasy novels and stories in her Sartorias-deles universe for over fifty years, since she was a child. The result is a literary edifice of incredible detail, scope and imagination, which has a large wiki (including several lengthy timelines) devoted to it. Sartorias-deles is a magical world in a different solar system, but there are gates between Sartorias-deles and our world that allow people (with the help of magic) to cross between the worlds. The prior novels are a mix of children’s, young adult and adult fiction.

A Sword Named Truth (2019) takes many... Read More

DEV1AT3: An entertaining sequel ups the stakes for humanity

DEV1AT3 by Jay Kristoff

In a brutal, blasted country called the Yousay (USA, of course), hostile androids contend against regular humans and superpowered mutants against a backdrop of robot death matches, in a dystopian Mad Max type of world. DEV1AT3 (2019) is the sequel to LIFEL1K3, which should be read first. Obligatory warning: This review ― not to mention a helpful four-page glossary that author Jay Kristoff provides at the very beginning of DEV1AT3 ― contains a few major spoilers for LIFEL1K3. (Those spoilers are also in this book's blurb.)

Eve has spent her entire life thinking she was human, until disco... Read More

Bonfires and Broomsticks: Time-traveling with the magic bed-knob

Bonfires and Broomsticks by Mary Norton

In Bonfires and Broomsticks (1947), part two of Mary Norton’s BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS duology, it's two years after events of the first book, The Magic Bed-Knob. The three young siblings, Carey, Charles and Paul, get the chance to leave London and spend the summer in Bedfordshire with their spinster friend, Miss Price, who was a witch in training. And they still have the magic bed-knob that enables them to fly through time and space on Paul's old bed, which is now in Miss Price's bedroom! Good magical times ahead!

Or maybe not: Miss Price, while pleased to see them, has decided that being a witch is a Bad Idea, and she's given up magic. But, the children argue, almost anything is fine in moderation, and they never did get the chan... Read More

Kill the Queen: A YA type of fantasy with adult content

Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep

Lady Everleigh Saffira Winter Blair is a member of the royal family (seventeenth in line for the throne of Bellona, to be precise) and has lived in the royal palace for fifteen years, since her parents were murdered when she was twelve. But this position of access hasn’t exactly translated into a life of privilege for Everleigh, or Evie. Partly because she lacks the powerful offensive magical powers that most royals have (she does have a super-sensitive sense of smell), Evie is treated just a few steps above a servant. She’s mostly overlooked unless there’s some boring or unpleasant duty that a royal has to perform, like making cranberry-apple pie for guests from the kingdom of Andvari or learning an intricate dance, the Tanzen Freund, for the visiting Ungerian delegation.

Evie does, in fact, have another magical power that she’s kept secret all her life, and it and her nose stand her in go... Read More

Limited Wish: You can’t always get what you want

Limited Wish by Mark Lawrence

As Limited Wish (2019) begins, Nick Hayes, the 16-year-old math genius that we met in One Word Kill (you need to read it first) is being pursued by a pack of drunken Cambridge students bent on beating him up. It’s 1986 and Nick has just been enrolled at Cambridge, thanks to the notice of Professor Halligan, a brilliant mathematician who recognizes Nick’s potential. What Prof Halligan doesn’t know is that Nick has to invent time travel so that when he’s older he can come visit his teenage self in the late 1980s and, in so doing, save Mia, the girl he thinks he loves and has a future with.

But there are several major problems with this scenario. Worst: (1) Nick has no idea how the mathematics of time travel might work, especially when you throw in the time paradoxes he’s ex... Read More

The Magic Bed-Knob: Charming, old-fashioned, and not much like the Disney movie

The Magic Bed-Knob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons by Mary Norton

I was a child when I first saw Disney's 1971 movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks and have fond memories of it. So when I found out that the book that inspired the movie, Mary Norton’s The Magic Bed-Knob (1943), was nominated this year for a 1944 Retro Hugo award, I was excited to read it. It's charming and old-fashioned ... but not everything I had hoped for. Also, it's not much like the Disney movie, which is both a positive and a negative thing.

During the London Blitz, three siblings ― Carey ("about your age"), Charles ("a little younger") and Paul ("only six") ― are sent to Bedfordshire to stay with their Aunt Beatrice. (Tangentially, it’s worth noting that in recent editions of The Magic Bed-Knob, all references to the war have been redacted, perhaps in an effort to make the story le... Read More

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