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.

War in Heaven: An epic of galaxy-spanning philosophical adventure

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War in Heaven by David Zindell

David Zindell’s space opera books, that started with the stand-alone Neverness and continued with his REQUIEM FOR HOMO SAPIENS trilogy (of which this volume is the conclusion), always scratch that itch I have for DUNE-like space opera. You’ve got the baroque world-building of a far, far future of humanity in an interstellar diaspora that combines elements of medieval and pre-industrial societies with ‘magical’ technology and gleaming ships that fold space; you’ve got bizarre human enclaves (sometimes almost reminiscent of Jack Vance, though with less obvious caustic humour) so that societies of warrior-poets, pilot-mathematicians, scientist-philosophers, autist-savants, and priest-kings all rub shoulders in a... Read More

Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth: Fragments from Tolkien

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Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth by J.R.R. Tolkien

This is the first work that showed us how J.R.R. Tolkien's obsessive perfectionism was a double-edged sword. On the one hand it gave us the wonderfully deep world and implied distances of THE LORD OF THE RINGS; and on the other hand it left us with a jumble of tales in various states of revision and development that had to be compiled by Tolkien's son Christopher into some form as The Silmarillion... a jumble of tales that, if they had been finished, would have given us a truly staggering body of work.

Just reading the fragment that makes up the entirety of "Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin" makes me weep for what might have been. Given the chance to expand even half of the partial tales from The Silmarillion into something equating the full treatment of THE LORD OF THE RINGS would have been a... Read More

The Book of Lost Tales 1: Recommended for hardcore Tolkien fans

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The Book of Lost Tales 1 by J.R.R. Tolkien

My first attempt to read The Book of Lost Tales 1 was made way too early in my life and made certain that my response was to put it on the shelf and decide that all of this background stuff, especially taken from this early phase in Tolkien’s life as a writer, was way too different from the Middle-Earth stories that I loved for me to waste any time on it.

Looking at where the bookmark from my first attempt still sat when I picked it up again, I noticed that I didn’t even get much beyond the first several pages of the introductory chapter “The Cottage of Lost Play.” I remember thinking that it was just altogether too twee for me, what with the Eldar of Middle-Earth still being referred to as ‘faeries’ and the, to me, bizarre structure of a wanderer coming to a tiny cottage (bigger on the inside than the outside) peopled by dancing... Read More

Galveston: May be Sean Stewart’s best novel

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Galveston by Sean Stewart

This may be Sean Stewart's best novel, though it is not my favourite. Here we see Stewart displaying full mastery of his prose, his characterization, and his depiction of a fully realized magical world. Be warned though, neither the characters, nor the world presented, are always pleasant to behold.

We follow the story of Josh Cane, a young man with a chip on his shoulder due to the constrained circumstances of his life that are the result of his father's loss of a pivotal game of poker. Add to this the fact that Josh lives in a world after the occurrence of a magical apocalypse wherein everyone has to work hard to survive, not only due to their physical circumstances, but also due to the perilous proximity of the magical Otherworld, and you have the makings of a pretty downbeat story. Stewart himself has described this book as: "...your Basic "Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Eve... Read More

Clouds End: Some of Stewart’s best writing

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Clouds End by Sean Stewart

I love Sean Stewart, and I wish he hadn't given up on writing fantasy. His books are always a treat and pay back tenfold the effort put into them by the reader. Clouds End was Stewart's "pure fantasy" novel, in contrast to the mixed urban fantasy with science fictional elements type of story that characterizes the majority of his works. I have to admit that the first time I tried to read this book I didn't like it. I still think that Stewart wasn't fully successful in realizing what he was attempting, but Clouds End still has some of Stewart's best writing and character development, and a marvelous vision of a magical world.

Stewart has said that he wanted to write an epic fantasy in the mould of Tolkien, but from his own agnostic perspective as opposed to the religiously... Read More

Desolation Road: A science fiction fable

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Desolation Road by Ian McDonald

I was reminded, while reading Desolation Road, of two authors in particular: John Crowley and Gene Wolfe. This is not to say that I think Ian McDonald was in any way aping them or merely writing some kind of amalgamated pastiche, but there were elements to his tale that made both author’s names spring to mind. I think the first one was Wolfe, largely because of the way in which McDonald made the magical seem almost commonplace (or was it that the commonplace was made to seem magical?) in a way that reminded me of the inversions of the various aspects of the world in both Wolfe’s NEW SUN and LONG SUN series, not to mention the presence of time-travelling Green Men, technological angels and various other oddit... Read More

The Night Watch: Primarily about human relationships

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The Night Watch by Sean Stewart

Sean Stewart is one of those writers I used to buy sight unseen (before he unfortunately dropped out of writing novels and decided to devote his time to writing interactive online games). His books tend to be very character driven, something I personally like, and he has an individual writing style that manages to be “writerly” without getting bogged down in stylistic tricks.

The Night Watch is the story of a future earth in the year 2074 after an inundation of magic has flooded the world (this flood started soon after WWII in Stewart's timeline) and only pockets of human civilization are left in the sea of wild and magical frontiers (in this the story can be seen as a member of the same universe as Stewart’s Resurrection Man and Galveston). The novel concentrates on two societies, the Southside, which is a relatively te... Read More

Merlin’s Ring: Historical fantasy with a strong dose of romance and optimism

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Merlin’s Ring by H. Warner Munn

H. Warner Munn’s Merlin’s Ring is one of the odder fantasies I have come across in my reading, but also one for which I have a deep affection. The book is equal parts pseudo-Arthurian Romance (in both the medieval and modern sense of the word), era-spanning historical fantasy à la Edwin Arnold’s Phra the Phoenician, and epic hero’s journey; there is even some mild pulp sci-fi thrown in for good measure. Despite (or maybe because of) all of this melding and mixing, Merlin’s Ring manages to be something all its own.

Written by one of the old standbys of the Weird Tales pulp magazine (Munn was an associate of H.P. Lovecraft and Seabury Quinn) Merlin’s Ring was probably Munn’s masterwork. It is actually the second v... Read More

Islandia: On the Edge

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Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

Islandia is a keeper. It’s one of those books that lives on your shelf and which you gaze at lovingly from time to time, considering whether this is the time to crack it open again or not. You don’t want to do it too often for fear that you might dilute some of its power (and let’s be frank: it’s a looong book), yet you don’t want to let your immersion in its world go too long between visits. This is one of those books that I would use to refute M. John Harrison’s argument that world-bu... Read More

Schismatrix Plus: What a great read

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Schismatrix Plus by Bruce Sterling

What a great read this was. I've never been much of a fan of cyberpunk and I'm not particularly a fan of the authors generally noted to be founders of the genre (William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, etc.), but I really loved Schismatrix Plus and it has put Bruce Sterling near the top of my list for sci-fi writers. Sterling does an excellent job of melding his cyberpunk ethos with a space opera-ish background that is combined with the 'Grand Tour' of the solar system structure (cp. The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley or Vacuum Flowers by Read More

The Dog Said Bow-Wow: Short stories by Michael Swanwick

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The Dog Said Bow-Wow by Michael Swanwick

I must first off state that I am generally not an avid lover of the short story. There are a few writers that I think really excel in the genre and whose stuff I will read without hesitation (Edgar Allen Poe, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Arthur Conan Doyle, Fritz Leiber), but in general I am often underwhelmed by the format. Keep that in mind when I say that Michael Swanwick’s collection The Dog Said Bow-Wow was quite good, but didn’t blow me away or make me into a believer.

The various Darger & Surplus tales (“The Dog Said Bow-Wow”, “The Little Cat Laughed to See Such Fun... Read More

Mistress of Mistresses: A truly impressive achievement

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Mistress of Mistresses: A Vision of Zimiamvia by E.R. Eddison

Like The Worm Ouroboros, Mistress of Mistresses is a book that only E.R. Eddison could have written and is one that is likely to garner an even smaller following than the admittedly obscure Worm. For my part I think that Mistress of Mistresses, and its subsequent sequels that make up the ZIMIAMVIA trilogy, is perhaps Eddison’s best work. It may not be as approachable as The Worm Ouroboros (and boy is that saying something!), but I think its greater depth and scope make for what amounts to a truly impressive achievement.

The main character is Edward Lessingham, that enigmatic figure last seen in the prologue to the The Worm Ouroboros whose dream sequence ... Read More

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary: 8 tasty little nuggets of supernatural horror

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Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M.R. James

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary contains eight tasty little nuggets of supernatural horror that I found very satisfying. In each of them the story is told second or even third hand by a genial narrator whose acquaintances, who are themselves of a decidedly scholarly bent, have been the victims of supernatural intrusion into our world. Often the stories revolve around an ancient artifact able to invoke the otherworldly that is discovered by these particularly luckless individuals (though they often feel themselves lucky indeed when they first make their discoveries). The tales are all good, but my favourites were “Canon Alberic's Scrap-book”, “Lost Hearts”, “”The Mezzotint”, and “Count Magnus”. I found myself thinking of both H.P. Love... Read More

The Phoenix Exultant: Disappointing sequel

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The Phoenix Exultant by John C. Wright

I was really disappointed with The Phoenix Exultant, the second novel in John C. Wright’s THE GOLDEN AGE series, especially considering how much I had enjoyed its predecessor, The Golden Age. In many ways The Phoenix Exultant just did not feel like a true continuation of the first book.

One of the major stumbling blocks for me was that I just couldn't believe the way Wright handled the voices he used for the characters in this volume. Considering his mannered and baroque set up in the previous volume I found the dialogue to be way too colloquial (and 20th century colloquial at that). Maybe Wright was trying to show Phaeton “stepping down” a level, both socially due to his exile and intellectually due to his loss of certain artificial brain upgrades, ... Read More

Engine Summer​: Fey, muted, beautiful

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Engine Summer by John Crowley

Fey, muted, beautiful. The story of Rush-that-speaks is a bildungsroman that will haunt you long after you have read the last page. Engine Summer follows the charming and inquisitive Rush as he grows up in his enclave of 'True Speakers,' one of the few groups of humanity left after an apocalypse has destroyed most of civilization. It then follows him as he ventures out into the world to see what strangeness it may offer, and in the hopes of finding his lost love.

Don't expect to find the mutant zombies or flesh-eating reavers of many other post-apocalyptic stories. Instead prepare to see with Rush the melancholy remnants of our society which are given new strangeness and wonder when viewed through his eyes. Tied to this are the strange people we meet; those who survived the cataclysm and continued to live their lives, forever change... Read More

The Book of Wonder: Dunsany is an excellent stylist

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The Book of Wonder by Lord Dunsany

Geek that I am, I actually read The Book of Wonder to prepare for the Tolkien Professor’s Faerie & Fantasy podcast seminar that covers the book. I am rather conflicted about Lord Dunsany in general and this book in particular. After finishing the first half I found that The Book of Wonder more or less confirmed my initial impressions of Dunsany gathered when I first read The Hashish Man and Other Stories many years ago; namely, that while Dunsany is an excellent prose stylist and creator of many arresting images, in his short tales there is still something missing. The missing elements are pretty major: plot and character. Of the first few stories only “The Bride of the Man-Horse”... Read More

Bayou Vol 1. by Jeremy Love

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Bayou Vol 1.  by Jeremy Love

I read Bayou Vol. 1 while it was still available online via Zuda comics and was blown away.

This is the story of Lee Wagstaff, a little African-American girl living in the South in the 30's. This alternate reality South is populated not only by the real people and tensions of our world, but by the gods and monsters bred by them. After Lee's friend, Lily, a little white girl, goes missing and Lee's father is wrongly beaten and imprisoned for it, she goes on a quest to save him. For Lee knows a secret... it wasn't her father who stole away Lily, it was the spirits of the Otherworld who inhabit the nearby swamp that took her away.

And so little Lee Wagstaff heads into the frightening unknown world of the bayou, where she meets a staunch friend and ally, the gentle giant named after the Bayou itself and, like Alice, she ... Read More

Lightbringers and Rainmakers: An enjoyable novelette

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Lightbringers and Rainmakers by Felix Gilman

Lightbringers and Rainmakers is a good novelette with some neat hooks tying it to the larger tale of The Half-Made World. We follow, as his business cards state, "Professor" Harry Ransom, Lightbringer &c, &c (who made a small walk-on cameo in The Half-Made World), one part charlatan and two parts idealistic scientist, as he is pulled into the midst of the inescapable war between the Line and the Gun. Not only has his “apparatus” once again been destroyed leaving him on the edge of poverty, but now he must deal with the machinations of a rival "scientist" (the rainmaker of the title) and the intrusion of the Line into the small western town he has found himself in as they cast their net in search of some characters we may be more familiar with from Felix Gilman Read More

The Golden Age: A worthy read

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The Golden Age by John C. Wright

John C. Wright's The Golden Age is a worthy read. Taking place in the far future, 10,000 years from now, it is a world where the transhuman 'singularity' has occurred long before and the population of the solar system is made up of humans of massive (and varied) intellects and powers as well as the “Sophotechs,” huge supercomputers of intellectual capacity to dwarf even their superhuman creators who make sure that the society of humanity does not lack for anything except perhaps risk and adventure, “deeds of renown without peer” as the main character would have it.

This main character is Phaeton, the aptly named son of Helion. His father is one of the seven peers who are the richest and most powerful men in the richest and most powerful age that humanity has ever known. Something does not sit well with Phaeton though, eve... Read More

The Wizards and the Warriors: I would normally have steered clear of this book

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The Wizards and the Warriors by Hugh Cook

With a title like The Wizards and the Warriors, I would normally have steered clear of this book for the foreseeable future. I don’t think I’m overly snobbish, but it just brings to mind so many B-movies of the fantasy genre from the late 70’s and early 80’s starring has-beens or never-will-bes that I wouldn’t have expected much of it, and would certainly not have desired to plow through 500+ pages of what I would have at most expected to be mildly entertaining, and perhaps moderately wince-inducing, fluff. Other reviewers I trust, however, conspired against me and assured me that there was much more to The Wizards and the Warriors than that. Turns out they were right.

I vaguely recall seeing some of HUGH COOK’s books in the CHRONICL... Read More

The Worm Ouroboros: Larger than life adventure in exquisite prose

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The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison

The Worm Ouroboros is a love-it-or-hate-it book. Mannered in its language, weird in so many ways, and chock-full of larger than life characters acting in ways that most people just don't get. If you have a problem with something written in an archaic style, then you probably won't get much out of The Worm Ouroboros, but if you like that kind of thing I think the book repays reading and is definitely worth it.

First off a caveat: it took me two reads of The Worm Ouroboros to appreciate it and a third to decide that I thought it was genius.

The Worm Ouroboros is definitely unlike almost anything else out there and is a throw-back to much older works. The first sign, as mentioned above, is the prose itself. E.R. Eddison uses a faux-Elizabe... Read More

Neverness: Crazy-awesome ideas

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Neverness by David Zindell

Nevernessis a really enjoyable “big idea” science fiction novel that takes place millennia in our future on the planet Icefall, also called Neverness. It's kind of Frank Herbert’s Dune meets Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur with high-level mathematics, posthumanism, and trippy metaphysics thrown in.

The story follows the life of Mallory Ringess, a trainee enrolled at "the Academy," which was founded by a pseudo-monastic order of truth-seekers called “the Order of Mystic Mathematicians and Other Seekers of the Ineffable Flame,” hoping to become a pilot. Now in this day and age a pilot combines the aspects of a theoretical mathematician with those of a questing knight. Using advanced mathematics, the pilot... Read More

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