Terry Lago (GUEST)

TERRY LAGO, one of our regular guest reviewers, is a Torontonian who, like all arts students, now works in the IT field. He has been a fan of fantasy ever since being introduced to Tolkien by his older brother when he was only a wee lad, though he has since branched out to enjoy all spectrums of the Fantasy genre and quite a few of the science fiction one as well. Literary prose linked with well-drawn characters are the things he most looks for in a book. You can see what he's currently reading at his Goodreads page.

The Pride of Chanur: What does it mean to be an alien?

The Pride of Chanur by C.J. Cherryh

Cherryh’s The Pride of Chanur combines space opera with some gritty “hard-ish” SF elements in the beginning of a saga that deals with the political and economic ramifications of first contact. In this first volume of the CHANUR SAGA we follow the exploits of a crew of Hani (lion-like aliens) on the eponymous merchant space freighter The Pride of Chanur. Expecting nothing more than a routine run across their trade routes, Pyanfar Chanur, captain of the Pride, imagines the worst trouble she’s likely to have to deal with is her headstrong niece Hilfy. Of course she’s wrong and what was proving to be a rather boring trip becomes deadly as they run across trouble in the form of an alien stowaway while they are docked at the Meetpoint space station.

The reader is thrust into the middle of things which quickly come to a head as Cher... Read More

Hawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon

Hawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction

Matt Fraction and David Aja make a great team as they take a peek into the ‘everyday’ life of a superhero… a superhero who can’t shoot lightning bolts, fly, or bench press a city bus. What does an average Avenger do on his days off?

The story starts by letting us see Clint Barton, aka the Avenging archer Hawkeye, having a pretty bad day (which seems to be the norm for him): he’s just gotten out of the hospital after sustaining major injuries during his ‘day job’, runs into a track suit mafia that wants to evict all the tenants from his low-rent apartment building, and becomes responsible for a dog that got hit by a car, partially due to Clint’s intervention. Things don’t really get much rosier from there. We then get a list of every bad decision Clint is capable of making in one day (for the record, it’s nine this time) — ... Read More

Supreme Power: High Command by J. Michael Straczynski

Supreme Power (Vol. 3): High Command by J. Michael Straczynski

In this volume, the government ups its game against Hyperion, attempting to discredit him in the eyes of the public and attack him where they feel he is weak. They also seem not to have learned anything from the fiasco that has been their involvement in metahuman affairs up to this point, and still think they can play god with inhumanly powerful pawns. Not too bright, but I’m afraid the estimate may not be too off the mark for how governments would respond to the possibility of controlling the ‘easy’ power that superheroes (and villains) present.

All in all I have to say that I was a little disappointed with the lack of pay-off in this concluding volume of what I think is the first story arc of Supreme Power. So we have Hyperion coming to some important decisions about who he is and how he will relate to his adopted world at the same ti... Read More

Lone Wolf and Cub: Cloud Dragon, Wind Tiger

Lone Wolf and Cub (Vol. 7): Cloud Dragon, Wind Tiger by Kazuo Koike

The Lone Wolf & Cub series by Kazuo Koike is well-known for the amount of research that went into allowing a lifelike picture of the Japanese historical era to be faithfully presented. This definitely adds to my enjoyment of the series, but added to this is the fact that while each individual story is generally self-contained, there is a wider story arc that informs each of them both within and across volumes. Best of all is when specific details from previous tales make their way into later installments and not only add to the full picture we see, but show how Ogami Itto and Daigoro are growing and changing as they follow their bloody quest.

“Dragnet:” Despairing due to the fact that even his greatest warriors cannot overcome the seemingly undefeata... Read More

Gate of Ivrel: A seamless blend of science fiction and fantasy

Gate of Ivrel by C.J. Cherryh

Gate of Ivrel is one of C.J. Cherryh’s entries into the science fantasy genre in which we follow the adventures of Vanye, the bastard son of a minor lord in a seemingly medieval world who is cast out for standing up to his oppressive brothers and inadvertently killing one and maiming the other. As he makes his way across the harsh landscape of his world populated by clans who would like nothing more than to end the life of a miserable outlaw he stumbles across a ‘miracle’ in the person of Morgaine: a figure of power and fear out of legend seemingly magically returned and to whom he becomes joined by bonds of duty and obligation. What the reader knows already is that Morgaine is actually an agent from a high-tech society sent to seek out and destroy the many ‘gates’ that were created by the al... Read More

Fledgling: Love and relationships examined through vampirism

Fledgling by Octavia Butler

In some ways there are superficial resemblances between Fledgling and the last vampire book I read, Let the Right One In: both books have as their star apparently pre-pubescent vampires who have ‘complicated’ relationships with their human companions. In John Ajvide Lindqvist’s case it was a Renfield-like adult who was enamoured of the vampire-child for whom he obtained blood and the young boy who becomes a part of her life. In the case of Butler’s book the vampire in question, Shori, isn’t even only apparently pre-pubescent… according to vampire physiology she is in fact still a child, though that still translates to her being much older than her appearance would suggest (around 52 years old in fact). Despite this fact the relationships she has with the humans around her bear all of the appearances of a pedophilic relationship, at least from the outside.... Read More

Ares Express: This ain’t Mars like you’ve ever seen it before

Ares Express by Ian McDonald

There’s really something special about Ian McDonald’s Mars books. McDonald’s Mars is a place I love to visit in all of its crazy, off the wall, illogical glory. I’ve rarely seen the numinous, and irrational, nature of magic so well displayed in fantasy books, let alone in a sci-fi one (the exception would have to be Sean Stewart who is also expert at such depictions, though in a very different vein). Despite the strangeness of McDonald’s Mars, I’ve rarely seen such a consistently envisioned and joyfully painted world.

Ares Express is a hell of a lot of fun and it even taught me a few things: 1) Hell hath no fury like a failed art student; 2) If something is going to run your life it might as well be the Rules of Narrat... Read More

The Discarded Image: An accessible approach to medieval cosmology

The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature by C.S. Lewis

To me, this might be C.S. Lewis' best book. I will have to cop to not really liking the NARNIA books (too allegorical, and those British schoolchildren are pretty annoying), and while I do quite like his SPACE TRILOGY, I think that Lewis was much better as a writer of academic non-fiction than he was as a fiction writer. In The Discarded Image, Lewis is able to tackle a huge subject: medieval cosmology and worldview, and bring both his wide reading and ability to make things understandable to the "common man" to the table.

In his eminently readable way Lewis starts by setting the stage, asking his audience (this was originally a series of lectures given to non-academics) to imagine a world according to the view ... Read More

Lone Wolf and Cub: Lanterns for the Dead by Kazuo Koike

Lone Wolf and Cub (Vol. 6): Lanterns for the Dead by Kazuo Koike

The Lone Wolf and Cub series is well-known for the amount of research that went into allowing a lifelike picture of the historical era to be faithfully presented. This definitely adds to my enjoyment of the series, but added to this is the fact that while each individual story is generally self-contained there is a wider story arc that informs each of them both within and across volumes. Best of all is when specific details from previous tales make their way into later installments and not only add to the full picture we see, but show how Ogami Itto and Daigoro are growing and changing as they follow their bloody quest.

“Lanterns for the Dead”: One of the things I really like about the Lone Wolf and Cub series is the inside view it gives to the many facets of Tokugawa-era Japan. In this story we see a little bit... Read More

Tolkien and the Great War: An exploration of Tolkien’s early influences

Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth by John Garth

Tolkien and the Great War is an obviously well-researched book that goes into explicit (at times I must admit tedious) detail on J.R.R. Tolkien’s involvement in World War I and its possible impact on his then-current and later writings. We begin by observing Tolkien’s earliest close friendships formed at St. Edward’s Grammar School under the auspices of the “TCBS” (an acronym for Tea Club, Barrovian Society) where the core group of Tolkien, Christopher Wiseman, Robert Gilson, and G.B. Smith became close artistic confidantes, encouragers and critics of each other’s work. Convinced that they were a group that would change the world with their work, their dreams were turned to harsh reality with the advent of “the war to end all wars”.

We spend the majority of Tolkien and the Great War following ... Read More

The Book of Lost Tales 2: Framework for Tolkien’s fantasy epic

The Book of Lost Tales 2 by J.R.R.Tolkien

In volumes one and two of The Book of Lost Tales, we have a more or less full picture of the earliest work J.R.R. Tolkien did in the development of his personal mythology which later grew into the tales of Middle Earth. It was a mythology meant to provide England with something he felt it sorely needed: a foundation myth. Also, it was a vehicle which allowed him to explore and expand upon his own fascination with the world and stories of Faery, and his love for the invented languages of his youth. The frame of the entire mythology at this point centred on the character of an English mariner (initially called Eriol and later Aelfwine, each with varying origin stories) who was shipwrecked upon the isle of Tol Eressëa, the last bastion of the Elves who have all but fled the mortal world. Here are recounted t... Read More

Angel with the Sword: An immersive introduction to a larger universe

Angel with the Sword by C.J. Cherryh

C.J. Cherryh has penned both science fiction and fantasy tomes (as well as the blended Science Fantasy that partakes of both) and much of her significant sci-fi output has been in multiple series that span time, space, and in some ways even genre. And yet all of her works are part of a much larger future history of mankind amongst the stars: Angel with the Sword is the first book of the eight-book MEROVINGEN NIGHTS series, as well as a peripheral part of Cherryh’s ALLIANCE-UNION universe. I love the idea of sprawling future histories with room to really explore differing political, ideological, and personal aspects of the human condition, along with all of that cool what-if technology, and even crossing into other genres (like science fantasy). I say that I li... Read More

Pandemonium: Demon possession and Jungian archetypes

Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory

I’m going to say something that sounds unkind, but really it’s a compliment from me: for a long time now I’ve kind of thought of Daryl Gregory as something of a poor man’s Sean Stewart. I must first admit that this happened before I actually read any of his books (this one is my first), and was based on what I could glean of them from the jacket blurbs and comments/reviews. It probably also comes from the fact that I once ran across a posting made by Gregory on a message board or blog somewhere where he bemoaned the fact that Sean Stewart was no longer writing and wished that he could still look forward to more books by him (a desire which I have ardently shared ever since Stewart decided to move on from writing into online game design) and so ... Read More

Supreme Power: Powers and Principalities by J. Michael Straczynski

Supreme Power (Vol. 2): Powers and Principalities by J. Michael Straczynski

In this volume, the shinola hits the fanola. Turns out alien superbeings don’t like being lied to or manipulated in the way they were raised . . . Who knew?! In Powers and Principalities, the second volume of Supreme Power, Hyperion now knows that the government sponsored fiasco that he calls his childhood was all just a scam so the U.S. of A. could have a super-weapon in its back pocket. He’s not impressed. Add to that the awakening of a possibly schizophrenic super-woman who wants to help Hyperion take over the world and the fact that the government’s only other superhero, Joe “Doc Spect... Read More

Supreme Power: Contact by J. Michael Straczynski

Supreme Power (Vol. 1): Contact by J. Michael Straczynski

I guess you could consider J. Michael Straczynski’s Supreme Power the bastard child (or perhaps grandchild) of books like Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns in which the four-colour superheroes of old get a more ‘realistic’ make-over and are shown for the dangerous psychopaths they would all-too-likely be in our world. In this case we have Marvel’s Squadron Supreme coming under the deconstructive microscope. The Squadron is an interesting case even without the post-80's Dark Age of comics lens being applied: back in the day they were Marvel... Read More

Lone Wolf and Cub: Black Wind by Kazuo Koike

Lone Wolf and Cub (Vol. 5): Black Wind by Kazuo Koike

Black Wind, Volume 5 of the Lone Wolf and Cub, series does some good work in moving forward the main story arc by giving us further insights into the events that brought about the downfall of the Ogami clan especially in regards to the motivations of the insidious Yagyu clan. It’s always interesting in these stories to see how Ogami is both something of a selfless hero and at the same time a remorseless killer truly willing to follow the ‘demon’s road’ of Meifumado and abjure normal human feelings and values no matter their cost to himself and others. On the one hand, he is a man of honour willing to undergo se... Read More

Lone Wolf and Cub: The Bell Warden by Kazuo Koike

Lone Wolf and Cub (Vol. 4): The Bell Warden by Kazuo Koike

The Bell Warden, Volume 4 of Lone Wolf and Cub, is still obviously chock full of action and bloodshed as Ogami continues cutting a swath through Tokugawa-era Japan on his path of vengeance. The main story arc doesn’t get a significant push forward here, hence the slightly lower rating from previous volumes, though we do get a lot of details on Tokugawa-era Japan and more than a few interesting things in the stories Koike & Kajima choose to tell. To wit:

“The Bell Warden”: Apparently the position of Bell Warden of the watchtowers of Edo was incredibly important and prestigious. The holder o... Read More

Exit Kingdom: More of Alden Bell’s zombie apocalypse

Exit Kingdom by Alden Bell

Ok, first of all, what the hell is up with that cover? In what world is Moses Todd supposed to look like a refugee from a paranormal romance series airing on the CW? Not in mine, that’s for sure.

Alright, now that that’s off my chest we can continue. What we have here is the sequel/prequel to Alden Bell’s initial foray into the zombie apocalypse, The Reapers Are the Angels. This time around we follow former secondary characters Moses Todd and his brother in their rambles across a ravaged America prior to their meeting with Temple from the first book. Moses was really more of an antagonist to Temple than a villain, so seeing him fleshed out further here didn’t come across as either: a) a betrayal of the character’s nature or b) a picture of a completely unsympathetic anti-hero. Bell was even able to make Moses’ brothe... Read More

Star Well: A light SF comedy of manners

Star Well by Alexei Panshin

Star Well, by Alexei Panshin, is an entertaining comedy of manners in the SF mode with a hint of the demimonde thrown in for flavour. Our protagonist is Anthony Villiers, Viscount Charteris, an aristocrat and fop whose life seems to be a perpetual Grand Tour of the Nashuite Empire, chasing the stipend afforded him by his father from port to port and resorting to what might, in impolite circles, be considered illicit means to gain funds when he is unable to catch up with it. He is no career criminal or grifter, though, and is content rather to live a life of comfort and fashion without sullying his hands with anything so low as labour or outright criminality. He is, in a word, a gentleman.

His travelling companion is the enigmatic Torve the Trog, a giant befurred frog who seems equal parts Yoda and Chewbacca. Torve is generally a rather stoic companion, at least in this volume, ... Read More

The January Dancer: A very good space opera

The January Dancer by Michael Flynn

The January Dancer is a very good space opera… I wish it had tipped over into great. There is a lot going on here to love: a sufficiently deep future history created through the liberal use of allusion that references any number of existing earth cultures (heavily relying on Celtic and cultures from the Indian subcontinent) along with some pretty swell creations of Flynn’s own (the Hounds, ‘those of Name’, the Terran Corners, the Rift, the People of Sand & Iron, etc.) in which the diaspora of humanity has settled across the cosmos, making use of an intriguingly pseudo-scientific explanation for FTL travel; a cast of varied and interesting characters of disparate parts coming together, as though by chance, to solve the mystery of a powerful pre-human artifact; and perhaps most of all the well-crafted prose of Michael Flynn that provides a certain shine to what might have be... Read More

The High Place: An anti-romantic fantasy

The High Place by James Branch Cabell

James Branch Cabell was a phenomenal talent. He writes with wit and style, with turns of phrase that can take your breath away and displays of keen insight into human nature. Despite all this I find myself unable to love his works wholeheartedly. I’ve been accused of being something of a cynic or pessimist myself (I prefer the term pragmatist, thank you very much), but Cabell makes me look like a doe-eyed boy scout. While I certainly do not always disagree with many of his points about the incongruous and laughable aspects of human nature, I just can’t bring myself to wholeheartedly condemn even the best parts of it as mere illusion and wish fulfillment as he does. I also find that many of his stories in the great cycle of Poictesme, known collectively as “The Biography of Manuel”, lean a little too far towards the allegorical for my taste, though I readily admit that even Cabell’s allegorical characters have ... Read More

Planetary: Spacetime Archaeology, Volume 4

Planetary: Spacetime Archaeology, Volume 4 by Warren Ellis & John Cassaday

This is it. The culmination of the PLANETARY series. Does it live up to the hype? Does the climax match the build up? Well, read on and we’ll see.

Issue 19 – “Mystery in Space”: There’s a strange artifact approaching earth from deep space and Elijah plans on seeing what mysteries it contains. Ellis pays homage to the Big Dumb Object in sci-fi and also draws on the ideas of generation starships, orbital habitats, and the remnants of precursor races. Elijah has a plan to draw out the one member of the Four he’s never seen and hopefully deal with him… permanently. We’re getting more and more of a feel for just how extensive the holdings of Planetary are and the resources that Snow can bring to bear when he needs to.

Issue 20 – “Rendezvous”: Jacob Greene, Ellis’ version of the Thing, is in the house. ... Read More

Planetary: Leaving the 20th Century, Volume 3

Planetary: Leaving the 20th Century, Volume 3 by Warren Ellis & John Cassaday

In this third volume of PLANETARY stories we not only get to step back for a moment and have a bit of a look at the adventures of Elijah Snow in his century of existence trying to keep the world strange, but we also get more details on the Four and their intersection with the Planetary organization prior to the current story arc. Ellis is able to play in a lot of cool sandboxes as a result and the genre mashing continues much to my personal glee!

Issue 13 – “Century”: Just how did Elijah Snow form the Planetary organization and why did he do it? Well, not all of the answers will be provided here, but we get an intriguing glimpse at young Elijah Snow circa 1919 as he tracks down the members of a secret organization from the 19th century whose goal was to “better mankind” from behind the scenes. Elijah doesn’t like that kin... Read More

The Flight of Dragons: Fires the imagination

The Flight of Dragons by Peter Dickinson

I loved this book as a kid, and not just because it had naughty boobie pictures that had nothing to do with the text. Dickinson takes the position that Dragons actually existed, then goes from there to ask questions like: why are they not in the fossil record? How could a creature that is generally depicted as huge and armoured supposedly fly? What’s the deal with the fire-breathing? Why are they often depicted as speaking and/or telepathic creatures? How come the accepted method of killing them is by a dude with a magic sword? The answers he comes up with were pretty convincing, at least to young me, and do a lot to fire the imagination.

Scattered throughout the text where Dickinson expounds on his theories are excerpts from stories about dragons (both ancient and modern) that serve to back-up, or at least explicate, some of his theories. After covering the basic elements of Dragon physiology Dickin... Read More

What entropy Means to Me: Definitely a weird book

What entropy Means to Me by George Alec Effinger

Obviously a first novel and very New Wave-y, in some places to the point of excess, What entropy Means to Me is still a very ambitious book which tackles the idea of story itself and its impact on our lives. It isn’t always successful and is definitely a very weird book. It will likely take a few chapters before the reader becomes familiar with what is going on (assuming he ever does), and even then the bizarro elements and shifting of the narrative can be quite confusing.

In essence the story is about a large family of brothers and sisters (known as the First family since their parents were the initial settlers of the world) who inhabit the planet known only as Home. Their parents were exiles from Earth and seem to have brought with them little more than a huge assortment of books and, apparently, a number of chairs with which the yard of their rambling home is littered. See, w... Read More

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