SFF Reviews

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The Emerald Circus: An imaginative three-ring show

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The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen

Under the big top of The Emerald Circus (2017) is a fantastical assemblage of sixteen short stories and novelettes by Jane Yolen. Historical figures like Emily Dickinson, Benjamin Disraeli, Hans Christian Andersen and Edgar Allen Poe enter the three rings and shed their normal identities, dancing across the high wires and peering into tigers’ mouths. In this circus’ House of Mirrors we also see unexpectedly twisted reflections of fictional characters like Alice in Wonderland (who makes an appearance here in two very different Yolen tales), Merlin, and Read More

Magpie’s Song: Vivid, well-written prose

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Magpie’s Song by Allison Pang

Magpie’s Song (2017) is the beginning of a new series by Allison Pang, and it’s an interesting blend of genres. There’s a dash of steampunk, a dollop of dystopia, and even a pinch of faerie lore. When I started reading, I was skeptical that all of this would work well together, but Pang pulls it off, and creates an interesting world that I want to know more about.

BrightStone is a steampunky, gritty city whose inhabitants are ruled from above — literally — by the Meridians, a technologically advanced society living on an island that floats above BrightStone. The citizens of BrightStone, for the most part, eke out an impoverished existence, and no one is as downtrodden as the Moon Children. The Moon Children, half-breed offspring o... Read More

Vallista: Vlad gets trapped in a mysterious mansion

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Vallista by Steven Brust

Everyone’s favorite Jhereg assassin is back in Vallista, Steven Brust’s fifteenth VLAD TALTOS novel. If you’re not familiar with this series, don’t start here. Get a copy of Jhereg and read the books in publication order (which is not, by the way, the same as the internal chronological order, but that’s okay). Let me recommend the audio versions produced by Audible Studios and read by Bernard Setaro Clark. He does such a great job capturing Vlad’s sarcastic personality and the amusing dialogue between Vlad and Loiosh, the reptilian familiar who rides around on Vlad’s shoulder.

If you’re reading this, I’ll assume you’re a fan... Read More

Fisher of Bones: Half-baked prophetess for half-mutinous followers

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Fisher of Bones by Sarah Gailey

Sarah Gailey’s novella Fisher of Bones (2017) is a bewildering revision of the Talmud/Old Testament Exodus story with the “Moses” role cast as a prophetess dubbed Fisher (formerly Ducky).

Fisher assumes the prophetess mantle only on her father’s deathbed when the patriarch prophet lays his hands upon her in a would-be ordination and declares her an outcast, “forever banished from [her] people.” And in the next breath commands her to lead the same. I never could get over this contradiction. This kind of launching and halting, lurching and jolting is characteristic of the entire story’s progression and it is not a device that works.

The story’s principle tension involves threats to Fisher’s authority as the pro... Read More

Provenance: A coming-of-age tale blended with a murder semi-mystery

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Provenance by Ann Leckie

Whether you’ve read Ann Leckie’s IMPERIAL RADCH trilogy or not (though I highly recommend you do, as it’s excellent), there’s plenty to enjoy about Provenance (2017), a new and stand-alone novel set within the reaches of Radchaai space. The Empire-shifting events of Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy have an effect on the political schemes in progress within Read More

SFM: Kayembe, Johnson, Baker, Swirsky, Walker

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. 

“The Faerie Tree” by Kathleen Kayembe (Nov. 2017, free at Lightspeed, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue)

Marianne’s family is in turmoil. Her sister, who always had such plans for her life, has come back from boarding school pregnant, moving back home with her husband. The real problem is that Marianne can see there’s something hugely amiss: Sister, who was so lively, now spends most of the time sitting like a china doll, st... Read More

The Crystal Heart: An interesting retelling of a familiar tale

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The Crystal Heart by Sophie Masson

I've always enjoyed Sophie Masson's books, and it would seem she's written something of an unofficial trilogy based on the stories of Rapunzel (The Crystal Heart), Cinderella (Moonlight & Ashes) and Beauty and the Beast (Scarlet in the Snow). All of them are based on old familiar fairy tales, but take the opportunity to flesh out the characters and expand the tales into fully-fledged adventures, till they bear very little resemblance to their original sources.

In this case, it's easy to forget that The Crystal Heart is based on Rapunzel, as after establishing the existence of a youn... Read More

Merlin’s Bones: Needs fleshing out

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Merlin’s Bones by Fred Saberhagen

We raided the used bookstore the other day and this was one of my prizes; as sometimes happens when I visit the used bookstore and pick up a book by an author whose name I consider a guarantee of quality, I discovered when I got home that I had actually read Merlin’s Bones before — perhaps fifteen years ago, in this case. It took about three chapters to be sure, by which time I was merrily embarked and enjoying the story, so I didn’t mind. I did have, however, a small uneasiness — I recalled having been unimpressed with my previous read, though I didn’t remember why.

The story is set in two times: the first is medieval England, where a boy named Amby and his troupe of traveling players are attempting to escape the attentions of a warlord who their (the troupe’s) leader insulted on-stage and find themselves in a ver... Read More

Phule’s Paradise: Silly but fun

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Phule’s Paradise by Robert Asprin

Phule’s Paradise is the second book in Robert Asprin‘s screwball comedy series called PHULE’S COMPANY. These are being released in audiobook format by Tantor Audio with excellent narration by Noah Michael Levine. You’ll want to read the first book, Phule’s Company, before picking up Phule’s Paradise.

In Phule’s Company, we met Willard Phule, a mega-billionaire who, as a punishment, was assigned to captain the Space Legion’s company of “losers and misfits” that was guarding a swamp on a backwater planet. (Don’t ask why a mega-billionaire would want to ... Read More

Night Has a Thousand Eyes: Pretty horrifying, after all

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Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich

On the cover of my Dell paperback edition of Night Has a Thousand Eyes (with a cover price of 25 cents), the author is listed as William Irish, with an asterisk next to the name. At the bottom of the cover, next to the footnote asterisk, is another name: George Hopley. This should not fool any prospective readers, though. Both names were pseudonyms of Cornell Woolrich, the author whom Isaac Asimov called "THE Master of Suspense"; whom his biographer, Francis Nevins, Jr., called "the Edgar Allan Poe of the 20th century" (hey, wait a minute ... I thought that H.P. Lovecraft was considered the Edgar... Read More

Stranger Things 2: The world is turning upside down

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Stranger Things 2 created by the Duffer Brothers

After its unexpected success last year, Stranger Things became an instant classic and fans have been clamouring for the release of the second series ever since. With its perfect combination of nostalgia, comedy and suspense, the show's creators, the Duffer Brothers, gave themselves a hell of a first series to follow up. So, did they manage to live up to the hype?

Sequels always present a conundrum: you want to give the fans more of what they want (and know), whilst simultaneously trying to create something new. Stranger Things 2 boldly begins with the unknown: our opening scenes start with a group of grungy misfits (eyeliner and mohawks galore) mid-robbery, that winds up in a police chase. It seems a far cry from the unnatural goings on at Hawkins, until one of the gro... Read More

The Devil in a Forest: “Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”

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The Devil in a Forest by Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe is different from most of us — at least, he’s certainly not like me. When I hear the song “Good King Wenceslas” I may wonder idly when the Feast of Stephen is (it’s December 26th, as I finally learned two years ago), if he was a real person (he was, although he was actually a duke) and, perhaps, if he was as good as all that (I have no idea). Gene Wolfe heard “Good King Wenceslas” and decided to write this book.

The Devil in a Forest is not a Christmas story, though it is a Christian story; the action takes place near and on the Mountain, within the “forest fence” and near a shrine to Saint Agnes, and that is, as far as I can tell, the end of the direct influence of the song on the story. As the story opens, a... Read More

The Cuckoo’s Calling: Rowling makes a break without forgetting her roots

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Reposting to include Ryan's new review.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

Early in 2013, a new murder mystery came out. Written by an author named Robert Galbraith, The Cuckoo’s Calling was set in England and featured an army veteran detective with a prosthetic leg (he was injured saving other soldiers in Afghanistan), a strange family and an unusual name; Cormoran Strike. A few months later, through a series of different sources, it was revealed that “Robert Galbraith” was a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling, who wanted to publish her first murder mystery without having it connected in any way to her globally-famous, history-making, best-selling series of YA fantasy best-sellers.

Sorry that whole anonymous thing didn’t work out for you, Ms. Rowling. Read More

Scarlet in the Snow: A unique and interesting take on Beauty and the Beast

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Scarlet in the Snow by Sophie Masson

Sophie Masson's unofficial fairy tale trilogy is linked only by the presence of feya (powerful fairies) and certain geographical locations, which hint that Scarlet in the Snow, Moonlight & Ashes, and The Crystal Heart all exist in the same world, though none of the stories or characters ever interact.

Each one is based on a traditional fairy tale, with Scarlet in the Snow providing some interesting twists on the story of Beauty and the Beast. What if Beauty's father was dead and it was instead her mother who was struggling to make ends meet? What if Beauty actually investigated the Beast's identity, in an attempt to find out who he was before the spell wa... Read More

Stranger Things: Scares and swoons, this show has it all

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Stranger Things created by the Duffer Brothers

Like The Hunger Games and Star Wars before it, Stranger Things is that rare breed of entertainment which becomes a franchise almost instantly upon release. What's more, it firmly established Netflix’s media strategy: The Binge. With the days of having to wait a week between episodes firmly over — and at a modest eight episodes long — some people managed to finish the first series in a day. So what winning formula managed to establish such a die-hard legion of fans?

On paper, Stranger Things shouldn’t really work. The show’s an indefinable blend of horror, humour, coming-of-age drama, science fiction, romance and mystery. When asked how they’d classify it, the Duffer Brothers themselves were unable to give a firm genre, and perhaps that is where the success of the show lies: there really is something for everyone... Read More

The Faerie Handbook: Lots of information and art, and a few crafts

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The Faerie Handbook by Carolyn Turgeon & the editors of Faerie Magazine

The editors of Faerie Magazine have compiled The Faerie Handbook: An Enchanting Compendium of Literature, Lore, Art, Recipes, and Projects (2017), and its eye-catching lavender-and-silver binding and satin ribbon bookmark certainly seem appealing, but do the contents match the cover?

Faerie appreciation is nothing new — there was a big craze in the middle of England’s Victorian era, justified thusly:
Real life was stark and challenging for most Victorians, who faced a rapidly changing and increasingly less romantic world due to urbanization and industrialization, and many felt like the world of old — and all the magic that went with it — was gone for good.
With that frame of reference in mind, it’s easy to see why certain periods and social groups... Read More

Artemis: Andy Weir’s moon phase

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Artemis by Andy Weir

Life in Artemis, the only human city on the moon, is rough for Jasmine Bashara, a 26 year old delivery person, smuggler, and would-be tourist guide. She fails her EVA (extravehicular activity) Guild exam in, literally, breathtaking fashion; she’s somewhat estranged from her welder father, to whom she owes a huge personal debt; she’s living alone in a tiny, claustrophobia-inducing capsule room; she barely gets by on her payments as a porter (supplemented by some judicious smuggling activity). But Jazz wouldn’t want to live any other place ― certainly not on Earth ― and she’s determined to make a success of her life, with no help from anyone.

So when Trond Landvik, one of the wealthiest people on the moon and a regular customer for Jazz’s smuggled luxuries, offers her a million “slugs” (moon currency) to do a highly illegal sabotage job, Jazz can’t ... Read More

SFM: Howard, Wilde, Gaiman, Ellison, Keller, Dick

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.

“A Recipe for Magic” by Kat Howard and Fran Wilde (2017, free at Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy blog, free to download for Nook)

“A Recipe for Magic,” co-written by Kat Howard and Fran Wilde, features a curious kind of shop: at the Night and Day Bakery, magic spells are baked directly into pastries and confections, affecti... Read More

The Nine: Original premise, cool gadgets and a great heist story

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The Nine by Tracy Townsend

The Nine (2017), by Tracy Townsend, is the first book in a fantasy series titled THE THIEVES OF FATE. This second-world fantasy, with its fascinating premise, imaginative settings, cool gadgets, and rich visuals, gives the reader an exciting heist story, beautifully rendered non-human people and an intellectually challenging, thought-provoking look at science, faith, and perception of God.

The Nine follows Rowena, a young woman who serves as a courier for a shady character; Anselm Meteron, a semi-retired crime lord; the Alchemist, (who’s an alchemist); and the Reverend Doctor Phillip Chalmers, who is a scientist and part of the Ecclesiastical Commission. Chalmers and his partner have made a discovery that will change decades of belief and work, and change the understanding of... Read More

Ironclads: Searching for the missing Iron Man

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Ironclads by Adrian Tchaikovsky

In Ironclads (2017), the gap between the haves and have-nots has become drastically wider in this near-future novella, especially in the military, where it’s become popular for rich young men, called Scions, to engage in war, battling foes in high-tech, weaponized and near-impenetrable suits of armor paid for by their wealthy family corporations. It’s a little like having Iron Man, Iron Patriot, and several of their friends in your military, though without, apparently, the flying ability. In contrast, the regular army “grunts” are underpaid and denied most of the high-tech protections available to the Scions, who always outrank everyone else.

Sergeant Ted Regan of the U.S. 203rd Infantry Division and two of his men, Sturgeon and Franken, are on two weeks leave in England (now a territory of the U.S.), preparing for battle a... Read More

The Manhattan Projects by Jonathan Hickman

 The Manhattan Projects (Vol. 1) by Jonathan Hickman (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 Josh Mikos:

Josh Mikos, 18, is a native of Georgia. Currently he is a freshman attending Oxford College of Emory University. Josh plans to attend Goizueta Business School, then attend law school. Josh likes riding his motorcycle, working out,... Read More

Winds of Fury: Better than previous book, but that’s not saying much

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Winds of Fury by Mercedes Lackey

I read Winds of Fury (1993) because I owned it at Audible and had already reviewed the previous books in this MAGE WINDS trilogy (Winds of Fate and Winds of Change). I haven’t been enthusiastic about the story or the characters thus far, so if you have enjoyed them, you should ignore this review because it won’t be helpful. If you haven’t read those books yet and are trying to decide whether to read them, perhaps my review will be helpful.

When we left our heroes in Winds of Change, they had been trained up in their magical abilities and, at the very end of the book, fought ... Read More

Chimes at Midnight: We love this series!

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Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

Chimes at Midnight by Seanan McGuire

I have enjoyed Seanan McGuire’s OCTOBER DAYE urban fantasies, but a few of her more recent novels in the series seemed to introduce too many characters and bring too many different magic systems into play. However, the latest two novels, Chimes at Midnight and The Winter Long (which I’ll review soon), have knocked my socks off with tight plotting and memorable characters. Now I once again find myself impatient for the next one to arrive, and annoyed that the September 1 publication date is so far away.

In Chimes at Midnight, Toby is working with her team — her lover, Tybalt, the local King of Cats; May, Toby’s Fetch; Jasmine, May’s shapeshifting lover; Quentin, Toby’... Read More

Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror

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Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror edited by Ellen Datlow

This anthology comes after a similarly titled anthology, also edited by Ellen Datlow, called Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror which came out in March 2010. Datlow also edits an annual anthology of horror fiction (collaborating with other editors on those). It seems then that Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror (which came out in October 2016) is informed by a great deal of knowledge in the field of speculative horror literature. I am not generally a horror reader, but I still thoroughly enjoyed many tales in this anthology for their engaging storytelling and terrifying themes. What follows is a brief review of each of the 25 tales, in the order which they appear.

“Shall... Read More

The Return: Mystifying and challenging, but not without its rewards

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The Return by Walter de la Mare

In Prague-born author Franz Kafka’s 1915 novella The Metamorphosis, a man named Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning and discovers that he has somehow been transformed into a cockroach. But this, it seems, was not the first time that a human being had undergone a baffling overnight transformation. I give you, for example, British author Walter de la Mare’s novel The Return, which was initially published in 1910, when the author was 37 and just recently retired, and which subsequently saw two revised editions, in 1922 and ’45. To tell you the truth, I’m really not sure which version of this classic tale of psychic possession I just experienced, but can say that it was in a Dover edition that came out in 1997, with a scholarly introduction by S.T. Joshi. And I can also say that my uncertainty as to wh... Read More