The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber
Since Bill and I both read Michael Faber’s newest novel, The Book of Strange New Things, at the same time, we’ve decided to share this review.
The Book of Strange New Things is a marvelous exploration of human faith and faithfulness in the most trying of circumstances. It follows Peter, a British evangelical minister, as he undertakes a missionary venture on Oasis, a recently colonized planet. Behind him he leaves his wife and partner in faith, Beatrice, to continue their ministry on Earth. However, life on Earth gets increasingly difficult and dangerous after Peter leaves, and his relationship with Bea — continued solely via e-mail — begins to fracture as their experiences of God diverge.
One of the major strengths of The Book of Strange New Things is its portrayal of the relationsh... Read More
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The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber
Tangled Threads by Jennifer Estep
In Tangled Threads, the fourth volume of Jennifer Estep’s ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series, the plot advances satisfactorily. Since you’re reading this review, I’ll assume you’ve read the first three books, Spider’s Bite, Web of Lies, and Venom. I’ll also assume you still like the series if you’re interested in a review of book four.
So, as I said, the plot advances, mostly with Gin’s relationships with both her new boyfriend, Owen Grayson, and her sister Bria Coolidge, the new top cop in town who doesn’t realize that Gin is her sister or that she’s Ashland’s vigilante assassin with stone and ice magic. Of course, fans of the series can’t wait to find out how Bria will react when she eventually discovers the truth. To avoid spoilers, I won’t tell you ... Read More
The Haunting by Margaret Mahy
I first read The Haunting when I was about ten or eleven years old, and now — almost twenty years later — I was stunned by how much I remembered it. Usually good books leave an imprint of enjoyment on your memory, but such is the potency of Margaret Mahy's writing that I recalled almost every beat of her story. At the same time, there were parts of The Haunting that I could appreciate much more as an adult than as a child.
Barney Palmer is a sensitive but ordinary little boy, who is on his way from school one day when "the world tilted and ran downhill in all directions, and he knew he was about to be haunted again." Sure enough, the blurry vision of a ghost appears before him, a curly-haired boy wearing an old-fashioned velvet suit and lace collar, who cries: "Barnaby's dead! Barnaby's dead! And I'm going to be very lonely." Read More
Last Plane to Heaven: The Final Collection by Jay Lake
Jay Lake died in June of 2014. It was a tragic loss but not a surprise, since Lake had made his experiences with cancer public. Last Plane to Heaven, edited by Lake himself, is a reminder of just how much the speculative fiction world lost.
I have always loved Lake’s prose, but I had trouble with his novels. This collection of thirty-two stories shows him, mostly, at his best and strongest. As with his novels, even when a story is, by my lights, less than successful, it is still a fascinating read. Lake put a brief introduction to each story. In several cases these often humorous introductions are as interesting as the story. Fair warning, though; several of these introductions discuss the effect of his cancer and the treatments on his writing; be prepared.
Because there are thirty-two stories, I am not going to comment on all of them... Read More
Venom by Jennifer Estep
Venom is the third book in Jennifer Estep’s ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series about Gin Blanco, an assassin who runs The Pork Pit, a barbecue restaurant in Ashland, Tennessee. My review will contain spoilers for the previous books, so you might not want to read it if you haven’t yet read Spider’s Bite and Web of Lies.
Gin has been trying to retire from her assassin’s trade, but as long as the Fire Elemental Mab Monroe runs Ashland as if she’s a crime boss, there will always be people in distress who need Gin’s help. Gin is all too happy to help them because her eventual goal is to take Mab down because Mab killed Gin’s mother and big sister about 15 years ago.
This time the damsel in distress is a vampire named Roslyn who is being stalked by Elliot Slater, the giant who’s Mab’s to... Read More
Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons
Carrion Comfort is one of Dan Simmons’s earlier works, first published in 1989. It is about psychic vampires who feed off of other people, manipulating their thoughts and thereby controlling their actions.
The notion of a psychic vampire is what made me want to read this book — it’s an idea far too interesting to pass up. Simmons’s vampires are unique, and they do live up to the hype in some ways. Ultimately, though, they often tiptoed right up to being absurd and ridiculous. The lack of believability at certain parts of the book diminshed my enjoyment of the novel. If there had been fewer completely unbelievable scenes — unbelievable even in the context of horror fiction — Carrion Comfort would be far more haunting than it is.
... Read More
In Real Life by Cory Doctorow (author) and Jen Wang (artist)
Though Cory Doctorow's In Real Life is a fictional story about a teenager introduced to the world of online multiplayer role-playing games, it's also about ethical issues involving the internet and labor. These ethical issues are not the usual ones we expect when discussing ethics and the internet: In Real Life mentions the obvious concerns we all have about online predators, but it focuses on the way the internet has the potential to be a force for good in terms of activism, as Doctorow explains in his insightful introductory essay.
Doctorow talks about how the internet allow... Read More
Lock In by John Scalzi
So because I picked up my copy of John Scalzi’s Lock In late, doing so based on Terry’s Sunday Status comment, I wasn’t able to take part in the review party Kat, Terry, and Marion threw (at least, my ego and I are going with that story instead of the “they didn’t invite me” one). Which might have turned out to be a good thing, as I might have been the annoying guy harshing everyone’s buzz. Not that I didn’t enjoy most of Lock In, but I seem to have enjoyed it somewhat less than the 4.5/5 ratings given it by those three.
I thought the premise was fantastic — several decades ago, a flu-like pandemic (Haden’s Syndrome) took several million people and “locked” them into their bodies... Read More
The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray
The Sweet Far Thing is the final book in Libba Bray’s GEMMA DOYLE trilogy about four girls at a boarding school in Victorian England. Gemma has inherited a magic that allows her to cross over to the Realms, the fantasy world that’s the source of her magic. She and her friends Felicity, Pippa, and Ann have been trying to keep the magic safe from people who might use it to unleash horrors upon the real world, yet Gemma has promised to share the magic with the people who have helped her so far. In this book she must figure out how to do both of those things at the same time.
As The Sweet Far Thing begins, Gemma and Felicity are getting ready to finish school and enter genteel society where eventually they’ll be expected to take on the roles of wives and mothers. Ann will suffer a worse fate — she is to be the governess for a... Read More
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
I am of the HARRY POTTER generation, so of course THE HUNGER GAMES hit me like it hit the rest of my demographic: square in the imagination. Although I adored the first two installments in this trilogy, Mockingjay left me feeling betrayed, let down, and ultimately dejected.
It seemed to me that this last installment in the trilogy was poor on every front. I felt that not only did the characters cease to be dynamic entities, the setting lost its unique qualities and the plot left everything to be desired. I think all of my problems with Mockingjay stem from the style being completely different. It felt choppier, less robust and much less well-thought-out than the prior novels.
What bothered me the most was the loss of the great characters. Though some of the supporting people stay dynamic and life-like... Read More
Blackdog by K.V. Johansen
While religion is often found in epic fantasy, rarely is it the main focus of a novel, as it is in Blackdog. It’s even more rare to find an epic fantasy that is a stand-alone rather than part of a long series or trilogy. While the fact that Blackdog is a stand-alone might turn some epic fantasy fans off, it is rather refreshing to read a fantasy on an epic scale that is contained within one book and has a definite beginning, middle and ending.
K.V. Johansen’s world building reminds me a bit of Steven Erikson’s MALAZAN series. The world is large, intricate and sprawls into lands that are just hinted at. It has a rich history which will keep the reader interested and yearning to learn more. Furthermore, the gods are steeped in that rich history and add an int... Read More
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
(This review contains spoilers of Book One, Ancillary Justice.)
In Ancillary Justice, Leckie’s award-sweeping 2013 novel, we met Breq. Breq was a soldier, but before she was a soldier, she had been a ship, the Justice of Toren. Specifically, Breq was an ancillary, a human body whose personality has been erased, so that she could be a node of awareness for the ship’s AI. Justice of Toren comprised the ship itself and 2,000 human ancillaries in a distributed network. When Justice of Toren was destroyed in an act of treachery, only one ancillary, who was offline, survived: Breq. Ancillary Sword, which continues Breq’s adventures, hits a solid home run.
Breq’s search for vengeance in Ancillary Justice led her to the ruler of the vast, millennia-old Radch... Read More
Hello from 2030 by Jan Paul Schutten
I had some mixed feelings about Hello from 2030, a Middle Grade (grades 3-7) non-fiction book by Jan Paul Schutten that over the course of about 200 pages speculates on what the future might hold for human culture — driverless cars, robots, living houses, a changing environment — as well as explains how such “futurology” predictions are made. On the one hand, it is full of interesting moments of speculation about future technology, has a quick pace, is clear and easy to follow. On the other hand, I found a few choices a bit puzzling.
For instance, one segment talks about cameras in your home that can send images of an “intruder” to your watch or phone — “if it’s a stranger, you can warn the police with one push of a button.” Maybe this is my simple naiveté, but it seemed a bit strange to me for a kids’ book to worry them abou... Read More
The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story by Stephen Donaldson
Though better known for his ongoing epic fantasy series, THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT, THE UNBELIEVER, Stephen Donaldson has also taken a foray into science fiction. The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story is the first in THE GAP CYCLE and a very difficult read if it is not understood that the book is mere stage setting for the four books which follow. Essentially the exploits of a sadistic psychopath and his victim, the novel will (rightfully) not win sympathy from many readers, but must instead be approached with a view to the larger framework of character development Donaldson imagines the series to be. Criminal and victim may be the assigned roles now, but what of the future?
The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story is unique in science fiction for a... Read More
Imperfect Sword by Jack Campbell
After the last book in Jack Campbell’s THE LOST STARS series, I was really almost dreading Imperfect Sword. I felt like Campbell had lost touch with the meaning of Military Science Fiction and was wandering in the land of Science Fiction Romance. Well, fortunately I have been rebuked; with Imperfect Sword, Campbell delivers a wonderful action-packed installment and restores my belief in him as an author who knows when to blow something up with a plasma cannon or take someone down with a sharp knife in the dark.
General Drakon and President Iceni have been up to their necks in intrigue since they broke with the Syndicate Worlds. Through a very, very fortunate series of interactions with Admiral Jack Geary, the hero of the LOST FLEET series, they have avoided being destroyed by the Enig... Read More