SFF Reviews

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SFM: Marshall, Campbell, McBride, Hawthorne

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about. 


“Red Bark and Ambergris” by Kate Marshall (Aug. 2017, free at Beneath Ceaseless Skies99c Kindle magazine issue)

Sarai is forcibly taken from her paradisiacal island home by the queen’s men when they discover that the young girl has the magical ability of a scent-maker, one who can concoct fragrances that will powerfully affect people, evoking memories and calling forth emotions. She is sent to live permanently o... Read More

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: An excellent exploration of the human genome

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A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived (UK 2016, US 2017), by Adam Rutherford, is a nicely measured work of popular science that, unlike far too many popular science books/articles, doesn’t overhype its subject matter — advances in deciphering the human genome and how such advances can be applied. Always seeking to inform rather than sell, Rutherford makes for a trustworthy guide whose down-to-earth, realistic perspective doesn’t at all detract from the inherent wonder of science.

He divides the work into two large segments: “the rewriting of the past using genetics, from a time when there were at least four human species on Earth right up to the kings of Europe in the eighteenth century” and an exploration of “who we are today, and what the study of DNA in the 21st century says about families, ... Read More

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders by Hirohiko Araki 

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders by Hirohiko Araki (An Oxford College Student Review!)

In this column, I feature comic book reviews written by my students at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small liberal arts school just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I challenge students to read and interpret comics because I believe sequential art and visual literacy are essential parts of education at any level (see my Manifesto!). I post the best of my students’ reviews in this column. Today, I am proud to present a review by Nicolas Ingle:

Nicolas Ingle is a sophomore at Oxford College of Emory University. Nicolas is intending to major in chemistry and Japanese with the intent to go to medical school. Hailing from Knoxville, Tennessee, Nicolas loves hanging out with frie... Read More

Nyxia: More than just another game competition

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Nyxia by Scott Reintgen

A group of teenagers, engaged in a deadly serious game-like competition. Life-changing fortunes are at stake, if not life itself. An ominously secretive corporation pulling the strings.

Many of the elements in Nyxia (2017) are familiar, but Scott Reintgen combines them with some more unusual plot features ― a worldwide cast that is primarily of minority races and nationalities, an appealing urban black young man as a protagonist, and a trip through space to a distant planet, rather misleadingly called Eden, that is clothed in secrecy. The result is an adventurous page-turner of a YA book.

The mysterious Babel Communications has gathered ten teenagers for a trip to the planet of Eden. As they begin their trip to Eden on the spaceship Genesis, Marcus Defoe, an executive of Babel, explains to the teens tha... Read More

Horizon: A disappointing conclusion to a frustrating series

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Horizon by Fran Wilde

Fran Wilde has had me on the fence throughout her Bone Cities trilogy — book one (Updraft) had some issues but I thought it just tipped the needle over into the positive. Book two (Cloudbound) had more issues, which sent the needle just over the line in the other direction, leaving me wondering at the end if the third time (Horizon) would be the charm that saves the series. Having just finished it, I reluctantly have to say it is not. In fact, I’m even more sad to report, Horizon (2017) may have been the weakest of t... Read More

Winds of Fate: Fairly average epic high fantasy

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Winds of Fate by Mercedes Lackey

Winds of Fate (1991) is the first book in Mercedes Lackey’s MAGE WINDS trilogy which is, in terms of internal chronology, an early trilogy in her VALDEMAR series. The VALDEMAR universe currently contains dozens of novels and short stories. So far I have read only six of them, but I own several more which I’m planning to review for our readers here at FanLit.

The VALDEMAR books are best suited for readers who enjoy classic high fantasy. They’re filled with mages, orphans, princesses, magic swords, animal familiars, and flashy magic spells. In my middle-age, and with decades of fantasy reading behind me, I’m a little tired of these elements, so please keep that in mind when reading... Read More

Dragon Teeth: Palaeontologist wars

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Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton

As anyone who reads the dust jacket will realize, Michael Crichton’s Dragon Teeth (2017) is about dinosaur fossils and the obsessed palaeontologists who traveled into the American frontier during the Gilded Age to gently dig them up. Sadly, it’s not about dinosaurs eating people.

William Johnson is a student at Yale. The son of a wealthy Philadelphia family, Johnson goes west to win a bet against his rival. He joins Professor Marsh, an eccentric and paranoid man who specializes in the bizarre new science, palaeontology. It turns out that Johnson has entered the “Bone Wars” between Marsh and his nemesis, Edward Cope. Although I spent most of the novel expecting Johnson and his company to end in a gunfight against Sitting... Read More

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld: A supremely entertaining book

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip

As one of Patricia McKillip's earlier works, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld provides an interesting comparison to her first publication Riddle-Master, a dense trilogy that made the most of her trademark poetic-prose. On the other hand, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is a relatively slim volume with a clear concise style and a straightforward story. Since then, McKillip has managed to successfully merge the aspects of both works in her later works, but The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is by no means an example of a new writer still trying to find her voice. Far from it: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld has a fascinating premise, intriguing character interactions and a rewarding con... Read More

The Begum’s Fortune: Frankville vs. Stahlstadt

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The Begum’s Fortune by Jules Verne

I am by no means a student of world history, but as far as I can make out, the Franco-Prussian War, which began in July 1870 and ended some 10 months later, had some fairly significant and long-lasting aftereffects. As a result of its surrender, France had to cede over to Germany the bulk of the Alsace-Lorraine territory, while Germany emerged a unified empire, effectively altering the balance of European power. For Frenchman Jules Verne, the Germans would never be regarded in the same way again, and his sentiments toward the former enemy would be abundantly displayed in his novel The Begum’s Fortune. This was to be the 18th novel for the so-called “Father of Science Fiction,” out of an eventual 54 to be published during his lifetime; eight more w... Read More

Hawaiian Dick Vol. I: Byrd of Paradise by B. Clay Moore and Steven Griffin

Hawaiian Dick Vol. I: Byrd of Paradise by B. Clay Moore and Steven Griffin (An Oxford College Student Review!)

In this column, I feature comic book reviews written by my students at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small liberal arts school just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I challenge students to read and interpret comics because I believe sequential art and visual literacy are essential parts of education at any level (see my Manifesto!). I post the best of my students’ reviews in this column. Today, I am proud to present a review by Vivian Fu:

Vivian is a freshman at Oxford College of Emory and is aiming to pursue a PhD in psychology. She is from Hsinchu, Taiwan, and she came to the States for education at the age of fourteen. In the future, she wishes to become a famil... Read More

Light Years: Deadly pandemic and New Age spiritualism make strange bedfellows

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Light Years by Emily Ziff Griffin

Light Years (2017), Emily Ziff Griffin’s debut YA novel, explores a New York teenager’s coming of age and spiritual and emotional awakening in a world rapidly descending into chaos because of a deadly pandemic. Luisa Ochoa-Jones is an unusually bright 17 year old software coder, on the short list of finalists competing for a coveted fellowship offered by a brilliant tech entrepreneur, Thomas Bell. In her face-to-face meeting with Bell, Luisa demonstrates her prized software program LightYears, which scans the Internet for people’s emotional reactions to a video, news story or other content. But she’s concerned that she and her program haven’t sufficiently impressed Bell. Before the fellowship decision is announced, however, society begins to unravel as a ... Read More

Cloudbound: A disappointingly muddled follow-up

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Cloudbound by Fran Wilde

Cloudbound is Fran Wilde’s 2016 sequel to her debut novel Updraft, and if its predecessor was a mixed bag whose balance tipped toward the positive, albeit not as much as one would wish, Cloudbound doesn’t fare quite so successfully, with the needle pointing slightly more toward the negative. Thanks to a continuingly inventive world-building and a somewhat predictable but still intriguing ending, I’ll forge forward to book three, Horizon, but it’s a more grudging decision than I’d prefer.

Warning: there will be inevitable spoilers for book one, beginning with the next paragraph! I’m also going to ass... Read More

Updraft: A debut novel that succeeds more than not

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Updraft by Fran Wilde

I’m of mixed feelings on Fran Wilde’s 2015 debut novel Updraft, which left me at various times enthralled, captivated, curious, and eager to continue. All of which would be great if it hadn’t at other times had me thinking it was too predictable, too familiar, too plodding, and too vague. Thus the mixed feelings, though the balance tipped me over far enough to move on to book two in the series, Cloudbound (I’ll amend this review once I’ve decided whether the sequel and/or the third book, Horizon, justify that perseverance).

Wilde sets her series in a world of bone towers grown ever upward by their inhabitants after a time of tu... Read More

WWWednesday; September 13, 2017

Obituary:

Jerry Pournelle, probably best known for his collaborations with Larry Niven, passed away on September 8. In addition to well-known books with Niven, Pournelle wrote a few by himself, and collaborated with writers like Michael Flynn, Dean Ng and S.M. Stirling. In later years, Pournelle shone as an editor, with anthologies like There Will Be War. SFWA’s obituary column can be found here. Cata Rambo, SFW... Read More

The Courier: Nice action sequences but unconvincing world building

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The Courier by Gerald Brandt

The Courier (2016) was recommended to me by a bookseller. She hadn’t read it herself yet. It was recommended to her by a friend, she said, who said it was YA and “kind of like William Gibson.” My first impulse in rating this book was to base my rating on the gap between the “William Gibson” statement and my experience of the book. If I had done that, this would be a 2-star review. That would not be fair. Nothing on the cover or interior review snippets compares this book to Gibson.

I am going to review The Courier based on the story I think Gerald Brandt was trying to tell. Although it has a youthful protagonist, the book is marketed as cyberpunk or post-apocalyptic fiction. YA or not, I think this... Read More

Taste of Marrow: After some fun explosions, the real work begins

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Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey

In the novella River of Teeth (2017), Sarah Gailey introduced readers to a hard-working crew of miscreants who were hired for an operation (not a caper, mind you), the goal of which was the removal of feral hippopotami living in a portion of the Mississippi Delta. In its sequel novella Taste of Marrow (2017), they’ve been split into two groups by the after-effects of River of Teeth’s explosive conclusion: Adelia Reyes, her infant daughter Ysabel, and Hero Shackleby; and Winslow Houndstooth and Regina “Archie” Archambault. Each group believes the other to be missing and/or dead, along with their beloved hops, and circumstances c... Read More

A Secret History of Witches: Mothers and daughters across five generations

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A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan

At nearly 500 pages, Louisa Morgan’s A Secret History of Witches (2017) might seem daunting, but it’s partitioned into five sections, individually focusing on a subsequent member of the Orchiére family as they flee persecution in France, set up roots in England, and eventually become involved in World War II. I zipped through this book in an afternoon, and while romance does have its own part to play, the interactions between mothers and their daughters is the most significant aspect of the novel.

Throughout centuries, Orchiére women have cultivated magical gifts, ranging from basic charms or talismans to complex spell-crafting and scrying, assisted by their animal familiars. Naturally, such behavior is poorly received by surrounding townsfolk and their own husbands from time to time, with reacti... Read More

The Black Wolves of Boston: Complex and funny new series perfect for late-teens

The Black Wolves of Boston by Wen Spencer

Joshua is a teen runaway; a college-bound senior who survived a horrifying massacre of his classmates during an extracurricular project. Silas Decker is a vampire who lives in Boston, one who has the magical ability to find lost things – and people. Seth is the werewolf Prince of Boston. Elise comes from the Grigori family, who trace their bloodline back to the first angelic-human hybrids. She kills things — mostly, evil things. These four characters find their paths intersecting and tangling in The Black Wolves of Boston, the first book in a new urban fantasy series by Wen Spencer.

The hardcover edition of this Baen publication, issued in 2017, has illustrations by Kurt Miller. They add a lovely touch although the book does not depend on the artwork. Spencer’s story is complicated, and many, many characters are introduced, particularly among the various wer... Read More

The Cosmic Rape: “Bastits!”

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The Cosmic Rape by Theodore Sturgeon

In Theodore Sturgeon’s International Fantasy Award-winning novel of 1953, More Than Human, six extraordinary young people with various extrasensory mental abilities blend their powers together to create what the author called a “gestalt consciousness.” And in his next novel, the Staten Island-born Sturgeon amplified on this idea of shared consciousness, but upped the ante quite a bit; instead of a mere half dozen souls forming one hive brain, Sturgeon posited the notion of a mind containing the thoughts and experiences of the life-forms of 2½ galaxies! The book was The Cosmic Rape, which followed More Than Read More

Robot Universe: A quick and fun tour through the world of robots real and imagined

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Robot Universe: Legendary Automatons and Androids from the Ancient World to the Distant Future by Ana Matronic

Ana Matronic is a huge fan of robots: “I love robots ... The reflection off highly polished metal, the red glow of a light-emitting diode, the sound of a vocoder: these are a few of my favorite things ... doesn’t everybody love robots?” Just in case some don’t, or aren’t sure if they do, she’s gathered together over a hundred of her personal favorites in a lavishly illustrated compendium titled Robot Universe: Legendary Automatons and Androids from the Ancient World to the Distant Future. It’s a pretty thorough gathering even if, as she readily admits, some might disagree with a few of her omissions.

Matronic divides the book into two sections — fictional and real-world robots. The fictional she further divides into the followin... Read More

Rocannon’s World: Ursula K. Le Guin’s debut

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Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Rocannon’s World by Ursula K. Le Guin

Rocannon’s World, published in 1966, is Ursula Le Guin’s debut novel and the first in her HAINISH CYCLE. The story describes how Rocannon, an ethnographer, became stranded on the planet he was charting when a spaceship from Faraday, a rogue planet that is an enemy to the League of All Worlds, blew up his spaceship and the rest of his crew. Rocannon thinks he’s trapped forever until he sees a helicopter and realizes that Faraday must have a secret base on the planet. If he can find it, he can use its ansible to communicate with the League, not only letting them know that he lives, but also the location of the secret enemy base. (Fun Fact: This is the book that one of Read More

WWWednesday; September 6, 2017

Today’s word for Wednesday is neocracy, a noun, meaning a government of amateurs.

Awards:

The Dragon Awards were announced on Sunday, September 3, at DragonCon. Here are the winners. Congratulations to James S.A. Corey, Victor LaValle, Larry Corriea and John Ringo, Rick Riordan, Read More

House of Names: Thoughtful and strongly-voiced in spots, but a disappointment in the end

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House of Names by Colm Tóibín

The Ancient Greeks didn’t invent murder, sex, and vengeance, but they did realize the staying power of stories centering on them. As, apparently, does Colm Tóibín, whose newest work, House of Names (2017), is a retelling of the House of Atreus tale involving Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Electra, and Orestes (spoiler alert — it’s not a happy story). Nor does Tóibín bother to dress it up in contemporary garb, eschewing the usual “updating” into modern times and dress. Though perhaps that’s not wholly accurate.

While Tóibín keeps the classical setting, he strips the story of one of the aspects that made it so Greek — the gods. Whereas Aeschylus and the other Greek dramatists placed the gods at the center of things, as prime movers, as ju... Read More

Like Water for Chocolate: Recipes and romance

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Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

A bit of classic magical realism today. First published in 1989 in installments, Like Water for Chocolate was a bestseller in Laura Esquivel’s native Mexico and subsequently around the world. A popular film version earned the story a place in yet more hearts (if you are tempted to watch it, don’t watch the version with the English voice-over, stick with the Spanish). The story is a heady combination of love, passion, family drama, food, recipes, and magic, all set against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution.

Tita is the youngest member of the De La Garza family, destined never to marry but to serve her domineering mother, Mama Elena, until the end of her days. In the face of her mother’s tyranny Tita seeks solace in the family’s cook, the kind and supremely talented Nacha, who passes on her re... Read More

The Emperor and the Maula: Laylah, you’ve got me on my knees

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The Emperor and the Maula by Robert Silverberg

As of this writing, in September 2017, Grand Master Robert Silverberg has come out with no fewer than 78 sci-fi novels, almost 450 short stories and novellas, around 70 books of nonfiction, and around 185 novels of, um, “adult fiction,” in addition to having edited over 130 anthologies. He has garnered for himself four Hugo Awards and six Nebula Awards in the process. The man’s prolific work pace is understandably legendary. Thus, it might strike some that his fans’ clamoring for more, yet more, is wholly unreasonable. After all, the man is currently 82; doesn’t he deserve a break, and a restful retirement? (The author, to his loyal readers’ chagrin, has not released a full-length novel since 2003’s Roma Eterna, wh... Read More