SFF Reviews

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Cadmian’s Choice: A long middle book

Cadmian’s Choice by L.E. Modesitt Jr

Cadmian’s Choice is the fifth book in L.E. Modesitt Jr’s COREAN CHRONICLES and the second in the trilogy about Mykel and Dainyl. You don’t need to read the first trilogy in the COREAN CHRONICLES (Legacies, Darknesses, Scepters) before reading this one. In fact, I think it makes more sense to read this trilogy first since it focuses on events that occur generations before Legacies. However, you do need to read Alector’s Choice before starting Cadmian’s Choice.

In Alector’s Choice we met Mykel, a “lander” who lives on the planet Corus. He, like most of Modesitt’s protagonists, is ultra-honorable and ultra-competent, and he has risen remark... Read More

Interesting Times: Rincewind goes to the “Aurient”

Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

Lord Vetinari receives a message from the Counterweight Continent — which isn’t China — demanding that Ankh-Morpork send the “Great Wizzard” at once. Vetinari, hoping to avoid a conflict, summons Mustrum Ridcully, the Archchancellor of Unseen University, to a top-secret meeting. Who do they want? Ridcully figures the Dean is the biggest wizard at the university — could they just send him? Of course, longtime DISCWORLD readers already know that “Wizzard” means Rincewind, and, of course, that he is going to the “Aurient.”

It takes some convincing, but Rincewind reluctantly agrees to the plan. Ponder programs Hex to send Rincewind to the Counterweight Continent, and, though the calculations are rough, Rincewind arrives more or less safely. Once there, he meets Cohen the Barbarian, who, at ninety-maybe-ninety-five, is aging like oak. Unhappy with the tide of po... Read More

A Case of Conscience: A Catholic priest faces aliens with morality but no religion

A Case of Conscience by James Blish

Great A-side, dreadful B-side. A Case of Conscience is James Blish’s 1959 Hugo-winning SF novel, expanded from the1953 novella. Part One (the original novella) is set on planet Lithia, introducing a race of reptilians with a perfect, strife-free society and innate sense of morality. However, to the consternation of Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez, they have no religion of any kind. Their morality is inherent, and they have no need of a religious framework to direct their actions.

As a Catholic, Ruiz-Sanchez cannot make heads or tails of this. Without religion, do the Lithians have souls? If so, are they fallen into sin like humans, or still in a state of grace like Adam and Eve? He struggles with this conundrum, as well as the purpose of the expedition to Lithia, which is to determine whether the planet should be exploited for its lithium or quarantined sin... Read More

Low Volume 1: The Delirium of Hope (Issues #1-6)

Low Volume 1: The Delirium of Hope by Rick Remender (author) & Greg Tocchini (artist)

Low Volume 1: The Delirium of Hope
, written by Rick Remender and drawn by Greg Tocchini has an intriguing concept whereby in our far, far future (it’s actually the deep past relative to the characters in the story) humanity has fled our burgeoning sun by setting up cities in the depths of the oceans, where they await the news from space probes sent out to seek inhabitable planets. Unfortunately, by the time of the storyline, no probes have returned, the air in what appears to be the only remaining city is turning toxic, and its citizens have turned to a nihilistic, hedonistic lifestyle of sex, drugs, and violence as a means of “dealing” with their impending doom.

The story focuses on a single family whose DNA allows them to work an integral “helm suit” and we meet them jus... Read More

The Next Species: Examining humanity’s past and potential future

The Next Species by Michael Tennesen

The Next Species: The Future of Evolution in the Aftermath of Man, by Michael Tennesen, is an engaging, informative overview of the history of life on this planet and humanity’s impact on that life (mostly for ill), followed by a look into the future and what might happen were humanity to go extinct or diverge into a different species.

He begins with a trip to the rain forest in the Andes, cataloging the rich diversity of life in the relatively small area (“The tropical Andes contain about a sixth of the world’s plant life in less than 1 percent of its land area... more than 1,724 species of birds in an area the size of New Hampshire”) and segues from this richness to a discussion of the consensus belief that we are in the midst of a sixth great extinction.

Over the course of The Next Species, he details those other extinctions, ... Read More

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress: TANSTAAFL on the Moon

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein’s libertarian creed is TANSTAAFL ("There ain't no such thing as a free lunch"), and this book is probably the most complete expression of his political ideas about self-government, attempts to empower women while still being incredibly sexist and condescending, and some pretty good hard SF extrapolation of what a moon colony’s technology, politics and economy might be like. Oh yeah, and there happens to be an omniscient, all-powerful AI named Mike who helps the Loonies stage their revolution against the oppressive Lunar Authority (can you say DEUS EX MACHINA?). The outcome is never really in doubt, so what we are given instead is a 300-page lecture on what Heinlein’s ideal society would be.

Basically Heinlein thinks that most politicians are self-serving and cor... Read More

Tarzan of the Apes: A very fine introduction to the original swinger

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Three years ago, the character of Tarzan celebrated his 100th birthday. Making his initial appearance in the October 1912 issue of All-Story Magazine, in the original Tarzan novel Tarzan of the Apes, Edgar Rice Burroughs' creation proved to be so popular that the author went on to create 25 more novels featuring the jungle swinger. Released in book form two years later, the novel is a perfect introduction to the character who has been called the best-known fictional creation of the 20th century. Like many others, my only previous familiarity with Tarzan was via the Johnny Weissmuller films of the '30s and '40s — all dozen of them — and, to a lesser degree, those featuring Bruce Bennett, Buster Crabbe, Lex Barker and Gordon Scott (I have never gotten a chance to see the... Read More

Fledgling: Love and relationships examined through vampirism

Fledgling by Octavia Butler

In some ways there are superficial resemblances between Fledgling and the last vampire book I read, Let the Right One In: both books have as their star apparently pre-pubescent vampires who have ‘complicated’ relationships with their human companions. In John Ajvide Lindqvist’s case it was a Renfield-like adult who was enamoured of the vampire-child for whom he obtained blood and the young boy who becomes a part of her life. In the case of Butler’s book the vampire in question, Shori, isn’t even only apparently pre-pubescent… according to vampire physiology she is in fact still a child, though that still translates to her being much older than her appearance would suggest (around 52 years old in fact). Despite this fact the relationships she has with the humans around her bear all of the appearances of a pedophilic relationship, at least from the outside.... Read More

The Darkest Part of the Forest: A fairy-tale remix with a touch of realism

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Holly Black's latest book, The Darkest Part of the Forest, is a marvelous YA fairy-tale remix. It follows siblings Hazel and Ben as they work to unfold the mystery surrounding the sleeping prince in the forest outside of Fairfold, a town where humans live in close contact with the fairies the rest of the world doesn't believe in. As Hazel and Ben get closer to understanding the history of the town and the forest, they begin to hide secrets from each other and themselves. Only when all the secrets are told can they work to save the people they love.

Jana and I read this book at the same time. I listened to the audio version. Here are our thoughts.

Kate: The Darkest Part of the Forest combines the favorite themes of young adult fi... Read More

Voyage of the Basilisk: A step back but still an enjoyable journey

Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Warning: Some inevitable spoilers for the previous novels, A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents, will follow.

Voyage of the Basilisk: A Memoir by Lady Trent is the third in Marie Brennan’s series A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS, and I found it falling somewhere between books one and two in terms of the reading experiences (better than the first, but not quite as good as the second). As always in this series, the narrative voice is the strongest aspect and managed to (mostly) outweigh the book’s weaknesses.

Readers will most likely note the resemblance between the title of this work and Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, wh... Read More

Tales of The Dying Earth: A perfect introduction to Jack Vance’s work

Tales of The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

Note: This is a review of the omnibus edition of Vance's DYING EARTH series. The individual novels are The Dying Earth (1950), The Eyes of the Overworld (1966), Cugel’s Saga (1983) and Rhialto the Marvellous (1984).

There aren’t any other books in SF/Fantasy quite like Jack Vance’s Tales of The Dying Earth. They have had an enormous influence on writers ranging from Gene Wolfe and George R.R. Martin to Gary Gygax, the creator of Read More

Double Star: No second-rate actor could ever become president, right?

Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein

Double Star is one of Robert Heinlein’s most enjoyable early period SF novels, a short and tightly-plotted story of out-of-work actor Lawrence Smith (aka “The Great Lorenzo”), who is unexpectedly tapped for a very important acting job, to impersonate an important politician named John Bonforte who has been kidnapped. Initially the job is supposed to be just short-term until the real guy can be rescued, but as things drag out, this becomes more difficult. Even more surprisingly, Lorenzo finds he is actually getting quite good at impersonating Bonforte, and has started to understand and sympathize with his politics as well. But how far can this situation go before somebody blows his cover…

Published in 1956 and winner of the Hugo Award, this book is perfectly paced, with great supporting... Read More

The Soldiers of Halla: Finally, some answers!

The Soldiers of Halla by D.J. MacHale

It’s been a few years since Bobby Pendragon first found out he was a Traveler. He’s been all over the territories of Halla, trying to thwart Saint Dane’s plans to throw all of Halla into chaos. Now the final battle is here. Can Bobby and his friends kill Saint Dane, or will all of Halla be forced to live in the terrible universe he has created?

The Soldiers of Halla, the final PENDRAGON book by D.J. MacHale, begins with Bobby learning who he is, where he came from, and what happened to his family — all in one huge infodump. I’m not sure why Bobby couldn’t know these things before... (Well, actually, I do know why — it’s because MacHale likes to withhold information for dramatic effect, even if it doesn’t make sense to the plot. This happens freq... Read More

Wyrd Sisters: Fun and Endearing

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

Wyrd Sisters is a fun, lively book. It’s definitely a bit on the light side compared to some of Pratchett’s later works – more parody and less satire, if you like – but there’s nothing wrong with a jocular, easy-going read. Indeed, while it perhaps lacks something of the punch one might find in Mort or Small Gods, this installment is probably one of the better entry points for DISCWORLD, readable and endearing.

This is of course especially true if you’re a Shakespeare fan, in which case Wyrd Sisters easily eclipses Guards! Guards! as the definitive Square One for the series. As hinted by the title, Wyrd Sisters is basically Pratchett’s parody of Shakespearean theater (specifically MacBeth, ... Read More

Acceptance: Easy to admire, hard to love

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

(Warning, this review may contain spoilers for the two previous SOUTHERN REACH books, Annihilation and Authority.)

If the reader believes the best theory put forth by the characters in Acceptance, the final book in Jeff VanderMeer’s SOUTHERN REACH trilogy, then it is the most original use of a certain standard SF trope that I’ve ever read. I do choose to believe the theory because it fits most of the... well, information — I can’t really use the word “facts” — we are given and because the author appears to confirm the theory later in the book.

That said, while Acceptance has rich, layered prose, strange, startling imagery and a... Read More