SFF Reviews

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Love, Volume 4 The Dinosaur by Frederic Brremaud & Frederico Bertolucci

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Love, Volume 4 The Dinosaur written by Frederic Brremaud and illustrated by Frederico Bertolucci

Love, Volume 4 The Dinosaur (2017) is the newest in a series of wordless graphic novels written by Frederic Brremaud and illustrated by Frederico Bertolucci, each of them following an animal type (a tiger, a lion) through their days. Dinosaurs, thanks to their massive popularity would seem an obvious choice in the series, and they get prime treatment in a gritty, vividly illustrated adventure tale.

Interestingly enough, the story starts small, focusing on an insect and a small shrew-like mammal. They’re quickly disturbed though by the massive foot of a sauropod crashing down as it wanders by while munching the foliage. Just a few panels later, a smaller dinosaur (a bambiraptor I believe, though I’m not sure) enters the picture, an... Read More

I Am Alive and You are Dead: A Journey Into the Mind of Philip K. Dick

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I Am Alive and You are Dead: A Journey Into the Mind of Philip K. Dick by Emmanuel Carrère

Anyone familiar with the SF novels of Philip K. Dick and the many films inspired by his works knows that he was one strange and visionary guy. Certainly the SF genre is filled with works of bizarre worlds, aliens, characters, and slippery reality. But it’s generally accepted by authors and readers alike that these fictional creations are just that — works of the imagination by writers who are generally considered sane and share the consensus view of reality. In the case of PKD, however, the line between reality and fiction, sanity and madness, redemption and damnation, revelation and delusion is very blurred indeed. In fact, the pers... Read More

Time Is the Simplest Thing: Fast-paced and imaginative, with an important message

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Time Is the Simplest Thing by Clifford D. Simak

Written s(i)mack-dab in the middle of the American Civil Rights Movement, Clifford D. Simak’s Time Is the Simplest Thing utilizes the tools of science fiction to make poignant comments on the issues of the day. The novel, the author’s sixth out of an eventual 29, was initially serialized in the May - July 1961 issues of Analog magazine with the equally appropriate title The Fisherman, and went on to be nominated for that year’s Hugo Award. (It lost, to Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger In a Strange Land Read More

Central Station: A snapshot of a strangely familiar time

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Reposting to include Bill's new review.

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Central Station is a thoughtful, poignant, human take on a possible future. For the most part Central Station occurs at the titular port on planet earth. This space resides in what we know today as Tel Aviv, but in the distant future it has gone through many names and many people. Everything seems to begin in earnest when Boris Chong arrives in Central Station after spending a great deal of time away — some of which on Mars. Central Station, the place, is a half-thought meeting of a variety of worlds. Central Station the book is more thoughtful than I think I know how to express, but I’ll give it a try.

Central Station occurs in the very spot where humans expanded from our first planet th... Read More

Infernal Parade: Only for the most passionate Barker fans

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Infernal Parade by Clive Barker

This is an unfortunately disappointing collection of microstories from Clive Barker, an author who helped define my reading experience in mid-1980’s junior and high school. The six very loosely connected stories that make up the 88 pages of Infernal Parade (2017) were originally provided as exclusive companions to collectables made by McFarlane Toys in 2004. I believe these are part of a larger macroverse of characters published in Barker’s 2014 novella, Tortured Souls: The Legend of Primordial.

Weaveworld and Books of Blood, the “Hellraiser" movies based on The Hellbound Heart, and Read More

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: In search of lost things, including a cat

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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

At first glance, Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is about Toru Okada, a legal assistant who has given up his job in the hope of finding a more fulfilling purpose. Though happily married, his cat, Noboru Wataya, has gone missing. If a missing cat sounds too straightforward for a novel often described as the masterpiece of a man who is often mentioned as a dark horse to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, well, there’s a lot to unpack in this summary. Also, Toru is about to learn that his brother-in-law defiles women and his own marriage with Kumiko is in serious trouble.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle can be interpreted along several lines, but perhaps our struggle to form meaningful rel... Read More

Behind Her Eyes: Twisty thriller with cross-genre appeal

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Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Louise is an insecure single mom who, one night, meets and kisses a dashing stranger. She’s mortified the next morning to find that the stranger, David, is now her boss. Her married boss. Then she (literally) bumps into David’s wife, Adele, and the two of them hit it off.

Despite her best friend’s warnings that all of this is a bad idea, Louise falls in deeper: into a full-blown affair with David, and into a close friendship with Adele. In particular, Louise and Adele bond over their shared experience with night terrors.

This triangle is a freight train barreling toward trouble, and Louise soon learns that the stakes might be deadlier, as questions and mysteries lurk beneath the surface of Adele and David’s lives: Who, if anyone, killed Adele’s parents? Who, if an... Read More

The Diabolic: Stabbing and backstabbing in the galactic Imperial Court

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The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid

The Diabolic (2016) is set in some distant future, when humans have settled the galaxy using spaceships that travel through hyperspace. Humanity has also been experimenting with genetic engineering, and for a period of time it becomes fashionable to purchase so-called Diabolics as bodyguards. Diabolics are cloned humans, engineered to have superior strength and resistance to sickness and poisons, and trained from early childhood to be skilled and ruthless fighters and killers, with no regard for anyone but the person they are chemically induced to love and protect. They are given names like Hazard and Enmity to reflect their dangerous role and, one assumes, to strike terror into the heart of any who might oppose them.

Nemesis is a young Diabolic girl, raised in a pen surrounded by a force field, treated as less than human by her keep... Read More

Wonders of the Invisible World: Intoxicatingly beautiful fragments

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia McKillip

I love Patricia McKillip’s writing, and was excited to hear she had a short story collection coming out. I really enjoy reading short stories because I think it’s a good measure of what a writer can do – distill down the essential elements of story to a concentrated core of who they are as a writer.

Upon opening the collection I was slightly disappointed to realize that these were all stories that had been previously published, many of which I had read before. However, it was an interesting experience for me to rediscover some of these stories for a second time, and to compare the effect of the stories I had read before to the ones I was reading for the first time.

I thought the first story, “Wonders of the Invisible World,” was t... Read More

Miranda and Caliban: A beautiful melancholy tale

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Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

Miranda and Caliban is a twist on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, ringing one major change on the play: what if Miranda and Caliban were in love?

Our tale begins years before the events of the play; we first meet Miranda as a child, assisting her father Prospero in the ceremonial magic that will bind the “wild boy,” Caliban, and the spirit Ariel to his will. From there, Jacqueline Carey alternates between Miranda’s point of view and Caliban’s, following them as they grow up together. At first, Miranda helps Caliban learn to speak and read; later, when she is stricken by an illness, Caliban helps her. And then when adolescence strikes, the two begin to have forbidden feelings for each other.

Looming o... Read More

Gilded Cage: The abuse of power by the super-powered

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Gilded Cage by Vic James

In the world of Gilded Cage (2017), there are those who are called Equals ― but there’s a deep divide between Equals, who have magical Skills, and the commoners, the Skilless, and they are decisively not equal. In England the Equals are both the aristocrats and the sole parliament, and they hold all the power, with the magical ability to enforce it.

One of the ways the Equals use their power is to require all commoners to spend ten years of their lives as slaves, known as slavedays. There are some interesting rules associated with this 10-year slavery law: there are advantages to doing it early in your life (such as the right to own a home, travel abroad, and hold certain jobs), you are required to begin them no later than age 55, and those under age 18 are to serve in the same place with their parents.

When 18-year-ol... Read More

SFM: Lee, Jones, Pratt, Skillingstead & Courtier

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly sampling of free short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories that caught our attention this week. 



“The Pirate Captain’s Daughter” by Yoon Ha Lee (2009, free at Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

A female pirate captain sails the Unwritten Sea on her ship, the Improbable Dragon. Her crew includes her daughter, who is still unnamed despite growing into a young woman, for the Unwritten Sea has its laws and traditions, and a pirate must have the soul of a poet, and write a poem to the sea with enough power in it to move a ship. But the pirate’s daughter knows that she is no poet, and despite assiduous practicing and countless tries, nothing she writes can even move a toy boat acros... Read More

The Proverbs of Middle-Earth: The wise speak only of what they know

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The Proverbs of Middle-Earth by David Rowe

The Proverbs of Middle-Earth is a smart, readable literary analysis of J.R.R. Tolkien’s use of proverbs in his worlds of Middle-Earth, including The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and (less so) The Silmarillion. If you’re a passionate fan of Tolkien, you’ll absolutely adore this book. Period. If you love the Peter Jackson films, this book will provide an enjoyable ... Read More

Wondering Sight: The price of vindication

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Wondering Sight by Melissa McShane

In Wondering Sight (2017), the second book in Melissa McShane’s THE EXTRAORDINARIES series, we return to a fantasy-touched version of Regency-era England where some people have magical talents ― throwing and extinguishing fire, shaping one’s appearance, flying, teleporting, and more. Sophia is an Extraordinary, one of the very few people who have particularly strong magical abilities. As a Seer, she can cast herself into Dreams, which show her future events as a series of doors in her Dreams that she can open and explore, as well as Visions, where she can see past and current events by holding an object that has a significant history with a particular person.

Before this book begins, Sophia, like Elinor in the first book, Burni... Read More

The Infinite Wait and Other Stories by Julia Wertz

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The Infinite Wait and Other Stories by Julia Wertz

The Infinite Wait and Other Stories by Julia Wertz is one of my favorite “slice of life” comics, and it is one I’ve taught several times in my course on comics. A memoir in three parts, The Infinite Wait and Other Stories is memorable for the reader because of Wertz’s strong voice as presented in two ways: through the drawn character we see — the “Julia” we watch living through the events recounted — and through the voice of the narrator, a future Wertz we “hear” but do not see, as she looks back and comments on the Julia in each panel as she lives ... Read More

The Fisherman: Five-star horror

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The Fisherman
by John Langan

The Fisherman (2016), by John Langan, gets my first five-star review of 2017. The Fisherman is a story about bereavement. It is a story about dead wives and children. And it’s a story about fishing and the things we pull up from beneath the surface. It is horror; it will disturb you while you’re reading it, and sneak up on you for days afterward.

Langan structures The Fisherman as a series of nested stories. The story of Abe, a widower who works for IBM in 1990s New York, brackets the book, but Abe’s story is about Abe and Dan, and their story is about the story they hear from Howard. Howard’s story is really Lottie’s s... Read More

Swamplandia!: Wonderfully surreal

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Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

It's not often a book manages to maintain the balancing act between reality and fantasy, but Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! (2011) treads the line perfectly. The story opens with Hilola Bigtree, matriarch of the Bigtree family who own Swamplandia!, an alligator-wrestling theme park in the Ten Thousand Islands of the coast of Florida. She performs her nightly stunt of jumping into a lake full of alligators, but it is not this which kills her; she falls victim to the more mundane and arguably tragic battle with cancer. This leaves the Bigtree family — Hilola's three children and husband — to come to terms with their loss and the uncertain fate of Swamplandia!.

Narrating the family's story is our thirteen-year-old protagonist, Ava Bigtree, youngest of the Bigtree clan. At thirteen, Ava should have enough problems to... Read More

All Our Wrong Todays: Struggling to get back to my future

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All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

Tom Barren lives in a near-utopian version of our world in 2016, the world that Disney and science fiction optimistically imagined in the 1950s that we would one day have, complete with flying cars, ray guns, space vacations, and other Amazing Stories and Jetson-like technology. There’s a single compelling reason for this: in 1965, a man named Lionel Goettreider invented an engine that produced unlimited clean energy, in the process giving himself a fatal dose of radiation, but also becoming a historic figure on the level of Albert Einstein or Sir Isaac Newton.

Tom is a disappointment to his father, unsuccessful in life, his career, and love. But his father, a genius who has invented a method of time travel, gives Tom a job in his lab after his wife and Tom’s mother dies, not expecting him to amount to anything. Tom is assigned to... Read More

The Found and the Lost: Masterful stories by one of the genre’s greats

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The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Found and the Lost is the companion volume to The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, a hefty 816-page book or 34-hour audiobook collection of Ursula K. Le Guin’s novellas. It contains most of the stories that make up Four Ways to Forgiveness (1995) a set of linked stories in her HAINISH CYCLE about the two worlds of Werel and Yeowe, and explores the themes of slavery, oppression, revolution, and redemption. It also contains sev... Read More

Caraval: Remember, it’s only a game

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Caraval by Stephanie Garber

I was so excited by the premise of Stephanie Garber’s Caraval (2017) that I listed it as one of my most anticipated books of 2017. Word has it that there are already plans to make Caraval into a film and I expect it is going to get a fair amount of hype. I can understand why and yet I find I cannot give it more than three stars. I will attempt to justify the reasons why.

Scarlett spent her childhood dreaming of the magical show called Caraval and its mysterious proprietor, Master Legend. Over the course of ten years she write him letters, begging him and his players to come to the small island where she lives with her sister, Tella, and her oppressive, violent father. Now grown-up and engaged to be married, Scarlett finally receives three invitations to attend Caraval.

But th... Read More

To Green Angel Tower: Too long, but an exciting finale

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To Green Angel Tower by Tad Williams

Note: This review will contain spoilers for the previous books.

To Green Angel Tower (1993) is the third book in Tad WilliamsMEMORY, SORROW & THORN trilogy, following The Dragonbone Chair and The Stone of Farewell. This is an extremely popular trilogy, which is why the arrival of a fourth book published a few weeks ago (23 years after To Green Angel Tower was published!) is such a noteworthy event in the fantasy community. In preparation for the new book, The He... Read More

Empress of a Thousand Skies: Propulsive plot but a few too many issues

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Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza

Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza is a YA space opera that feels a bit like old-time science fiction with a modern sensibility, in that characterization takes a back seat to a plot that can’t really be examined too closely, but those relatively flat characters are a nicely diverse mix in terms of gender and color. Sometimes such a propulsive plot can compensate for, or at least ameliorate somewhat, flat characters, but the plot also had its issues, and so the book didn’t succeed for me, though YA readers may be a bit more forgiving, particularly younger ones.

Years ago, Crown Princess Rhiannon’s father, mother, and sister died in an “accident” that led to her growing up in exiled protection while the galaxy was ruled by Regent Seotra. The book opens up as Rhee, as she’s called, i... Read More

The Burning Page: Lots of action but didn’t quite satisfy

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The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman

The Burning Page (2017) is the third book in Genevieve Cogman’s THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY series, and it’s safe to say that a lot goes on in this book. I enjoyed it in the moment, but I was left unsatisfied on a couple of points. Even though there is a lot of activity in the book, I have to say that, for me, this was the least successful entry in this fun series so far.

Please note that on Amazon and other sites, my opinion is a minority. Most readers of this series are pleased with this book. So, as we say, your mileage may vary.

After the events in The Masked City, Irene has been busted down to probatio... Read More

American Gods: Mixed opinions

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is a bad land for Gods... The old gods are ignored. The new gods are as quickly taken up as they are abandoned, cast aside for the next big thing. Either you've been forgotten, or you're scared you're going to be rendered obsolete, or maybe you're just getting tired of existing on the whims of people.

Shadow, just out of prison and with nothing to go home to, is hired to be Mr. Wednesday's bodyguard as he travels around America to warn all the other incarnations of gods, legends, and myths, that “a storm is coming.” There's going to be a battle between the old gods who were brought to melting pot America by their faithful followers generations ago, and the new gods of technology, convenience, and individuality.

That's the premise of Read More

SFM: Kusano, Swanwick, Howard, Tanzer

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly sampling of free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are some of the stories that caught our attention this week. 


“Next Station, Shibuya” by Iori Kusano (Jan. 2017, free at Apex, $2.99 Kindle magazine issue)

A poetic little story (under 4000 words) narrated by a city (or perhaps a city’s local spirit/deity) in second-person address toward Nagiko, a resident in whom the city has taken a particular interest.  I really liked the small details by which the city shows its love of Nagiko:
As you walked home from the station I made sure every streetlight above you was lit … There is alwa... Read More