SFF Reviews

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Titanborn: Detective fiction goes solar system-wide

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Titanborn by Rhett C. Bruno

Titanborn, a future noir tale, follows “collector” Malcolm Graves as he travels around the solar system in the year 2334, resolving problems for his employer in a largely permanent and deadly way. As a collector, Malcolm is a combination of an investigator, bounty hunter and hired gun for Pervenio Corporation, one of the huge corporations that now effectively control Earth’s solar system. Malcolm, who's a veteran of thirty years in the business, travels around taking care of problems like workers' rebellions and incipient revolutions ― usually by assassinating the people causing trouble, with little care for anything but getting the job done.

Three hundred years before, in 2034, a huge meteorite nearly wiped all life off the Earth. Since then, the surviving members of the... Read More

Emperor of the Eight Islands: Fascinating and lyrical

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Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn

Emperor of the Eight Islands, by Lian Hearn, is the first book in a series of four, called THE TALE OF SHIKANOKO. The books are published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and all four will be issued in 2016 (April, June, August, September). The publisher has used this compressed release schedule before, most notably with Jeff VanderMeer’s AREA X trilogy.

The Emperor of the Eight Islands is not a long book, although quite a bit happens between its covers. We meet the character of Shikanoko, the “deer’s child,” although he has another na... Read More

The Cyberiad: The joy of reading

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The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem

“Mighty King, here is a story, a nest of stories, with cabinets and cupboards, about Trurl the constructor and his wonderfully nonlinear adventures.”

I can think of no better introduction to Stanislaw Lem’s 1967 The Cyberiad (Cyberiada in the original Polish) than the line above taken from the text. Capturing the atmosphere of storytelling, the quirky, entirely singular imagination behind it, and the meta-human perspective suffusing every word, thought, and concept innate to the stories, the quote is a mini-excerpt of one of the most timeless, creative, and insightful collections science fiction has ever produced. There is nothing like the constructors Trurl and Klaupacius in literature, and never will be.

With imaginatio... Read More

2061: Odyssey Three: Blandly going where he has gone twice before

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2061: Odyssey Three by Arthur C. Clarke

This is not a great book. It's really more of an extended novella or perhaps part one of Arthur C. Clarke's SPACE ODYSSEY finale, 3001. This story has none of the depth, nuance or scale of Clarke's classic original, 2001 nor its solid follow up 2010.

Beware of spoilers for the previous novels below. I’m assuming anyone who reads this review will likely have read the two preceding novels, or at least seen their movie companions.

In 2061, Clarke creates a pair of focal points 60 years after mode... Read More

Burn: This Nebula winner was inspired by Walden

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Burn by James Patrick Kelly

James Patrick Kelly’s Burn (2005) was a finalist for the Hugo Award and won the Nebula Award for Best Novella in 2007. As Kelly explains in the afterword, the story was inspired by his dislike of Henry Thoreau’s Walden which depicts a pastoral utopian society where simplicity is valued and technology is shunned.

In Kelly’s version of Walden, an entire small planet has been purchased and terraformed into a forested utopia in keeping with Thoreau’s vision. Those who move there from Earth adopt a simplistic agricultural lifestyle, rejecting technology and all influence from the humans who make up all the other planets in space ... Read More

Vision in Silver: Keeps readers guessing

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Editor’s note: We thank Sarah Chorn of Bookworm Blues for contributing this review to our site. Kat did not like the first two books, Written in Red and Murder of Crows, but the series is extremely popular, so we are pleased to have Sarah’s opinion of the third book, Vision in Silver.

Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop

Each installment of Anne Bishop’s THE OTHERS series seems to only make me a bigger fan.

Before you read Vision in Silver, I should say t... Read More

WWWednesday; June 22, 2016

Books:

Joe Zeija summarizes five books he hasn’t read, based on their covers. A couple of his summaries have real potential as stories… just not the stories of these books.

Helen Oyeyemi shares her thoughts on fairy tales and writing with Book Forum. A lot of us here at the site like retold fairy tales. Oyeyemi has some interesting thoughts on the topic.

Fantasy Book Café offers a guest column by Brenda Cooper, about her new book Spear of Light.

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Infomocracy: Election-year politics in the future (or: some things never change)

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Infomocracy by Malka Older

In the latter half of the twentieth century, most of the world (a few areas like Saudi Arabia excepted) has moved to a form of government called micro-democracy. The world is divided into "centenals" of about 100,000 people each, and each centenal votes for its own separate government. The political party that wins control of the most centenals wins the Supermajority, which gives that party additional political clout and power, although the specific details of that Supermajority power aren’t entirely clear. There are dozens, if not more, political parties, though only about a dozen have worldwide clout. Parties are based on all types of factors: aspects of identity (like race, nationality or religion), a particular view of policy, the importance of milit... Read More

Gentlemen of the Road: Swashbuckling historical fiction

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Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road (2007) is a swashbuckling historical fiction about a pair of Jewish vagabonds in 10th century Khazaria. Amran is a large Abyssinian, while Zelikman is a somber doctor who explains that he does not save the lives of his patients — he only “prolongs their futility.” We meet our heroes in the midst of a con game and the two rogues soon find themselves in the middle of a royal plot.

Though Gentlemen of the Road is a pretty straightforward historical fiction — there are no sorcerers — there is still plenty here for fantasy fans to enjoy. Chabon’s heroes, for example, strongly recall Read More

The Memory of Whiteness: Science, music, philosophy

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The Memory of Whiteness by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Memory of Whiteness is Kim Stanley Robinson's third novel, after The Wild Shore and Icehenge. It's a very unusual book, standing out in Robinson's oeuvre. Much of his work deals with science and many of his characters are scientists. In this novel science plays a large role as well, but this time it is not so much the process and the ways it can change the world but rather the world view that is influenced by a scientific theory.

The novel is set in the thirty-third century, some three centuries after a physicist named Arthur Holywelkin forces a paradigm shift in physic by revealing a theory that is the biggest breakthrough in science since Albert Einstein’s. In his later years, Holywelkin devotes hi... Read More

The Exorcism of Emily Rose: 3 a.m.

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The Exorcism of Emily Rose directed by Scott Derrickson

As I once mentioned in my review of the 2002 film The Mothman Prophecies, there are any number of similarities between that film and 2005's The Exorcism of Emily Rose. To begin with, both pictures star Laura Linney, one of Hollywood's preeminent mainstream actresses of the early 21st century, here in a brace of unusual horror outings. Both are products of the Screen Gems/Lakeshore Entertainment production company, and both deal with supernatural events that are purportedly based on real-life incidents. Both films go far in convincing the viewer of the possibility of the bizarre happenings portrayed as being genuine and real (unknowable, highly advanced life forms watching over mankind in the first; demonic possession in the latter), and both, strangely, clock in at precisely 119 mi... Read More

The Night Eternal: Disappointing conclusion to del Toro’s STRAIN TRILOGY

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The Night Eternal by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan

The Night Eternal is the finale to Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's THE STRAIN trilogy and I found it simply… inconsistent. I enjoyed the conclusion to the mythology which includes the genesis of the strain itself, but I was disappointed in the conclusions to the various plot threads. This review will contain some mild spoilers for the ending of The Fall.

The dark and serious mythology really drove the first two books, followed closely by development of the characters. While the myth drove my excitement to finish the trilogy, the flat characterizations in The Night Eternal made it more of a chore. Something was lost at the conclusion of Read More

Port Eternity: Arthurian legend in space

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Port Eternity by C.J. Cherryh

The history, legends, and myths surrounding the man known as King Arthur are some of the most enduring and inspirational material in the English language. Like Robin Hood, Arthur’s name resonates in modern history. The number of books, fiction and non-fiction, which have been spun off the man is increasingly difficult to quantify. Appearing in such a wide variety of Western media and culture, most people, in fact, have only a hazy idea of who he was or might have been (including this reviewer), Disney being as much a teacher as high school history class. C.J. Cherryh is an Arthurian aficionado, so she applied her interests in a science fiction novel. Knowledge of the legends is required for a full appreciation of Port Eternity (1982), a survival in space story that uses a strong sense of ... Read More

SFM: Malik, Emrys, Swanwick

Short Fiction Monday: There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about. 


The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman Malik (2015, free at Tor.com, Kindle version). Nominated for 2015 Nebula award (novella).

When I began this story I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it wasn’t what unfolded. The title evoked images of a myth retold or a fairy tale, but this story was something altogether different than what I had in mind. The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jin... Read More

The Invisible Library: Different opinions

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The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman came along just in time for your vacation or summer reading. The book was published in Great Britain last year but the American edition came out this month. This is Cogman’s first novel, and it is a sure-footed, fast-paced romp of alternate history, self-referential book-love, nods to movies and television, magic, mysteries and secrets. And did I mention the dragons?

Libraries have gotten popular in fiction and on television, and not unlike the young team in TNT’s television series The Librarians, Irene, the book’s main character, slips into alternate universes and acquires particular books which are stored and studied at the Invisible Library, which sits at a nexus of the various alternate di... Read More

Down in the Bottomlands: Hugo-winning novella

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Down in the Bottomlands by Harry Turtledove

Harry Turtledove is known best for his alternate histories. In Down in the Bottomlands, a novella which won the Hugo Award, Turtledove goes with the premise that the Atlantic Ocean did not re-fill the dried-up Mediterranean Sea during the Miocene period. The sea basin becomes a desert, and this alteration in the Earth’s geography affects many aspects of humanity’s genetic and geopolitical evolution.

Radnal vez Krobir, a citizen of the Hereditary Tyranny of Tartesh, is a tour guide in Trench Park, part of the dessert that he knows used to be a sea supplied by the ocean that lies beyond the Barrier Mountains. Now dried up, it has a distinct ecosystem. When we meet Rad... Read More

Dreams of Distant Shores: Seven fantastical stories

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Dreams of Distant Shores by Patricia McKillip

Dreams of Distant Shores is a collection of seven shorter fantasy works ― five short stories and two novellas ― and a non-fictional essay by one of my favorite fantasy authors, Patricia McKillip. Several of these works are reprints of stories originally published elsewhere; “Mer,” “Edith and Henry Go Motoring” and “Alien” are the only ones original to this collection, but since I had never seen any of these stories elsewhere, they were all doorways to new and enchanting worlds for me. This collection, where faeries and other fantastical creatures and beings intersect with commonplace people, sometimes r... Read More

Sandman (Vol. 6): Fables and Reflections by Neil Gaiman

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review

Sandman (Vol. 6): Fables and Reflections by Neil Gaiman

Sandman: Fables and Reflections is a collection of nine separate stories that originally appeared in two separate groups plus an introductory short story and a lengthy Sandman Special about Orpheus and Eurydice. Basically, this collection is one of the most far-ranging and eclectic volumes available in the Sandman trade editions. The first grouping of stories about various emperors across time includes “Thermidor,” “August,” “T... Read More

Star Trek: Starfleet Academy written by Mike Johnson and Ryan Parrott

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Star Trek: Starfleet Academy written by Mike Johnson and Ryan Parrott and illustrated by Derek Charm

Released originally as stand-alone comics, IDW Publishing and Diamond Book Distributors have gathered together all five issues of Star Trek: Starfleet Academy written by Mike Johnson and Ryan Parrott and illustrated by Derek Charm. The storyline, which occurs in the reboot universe of the most recent films, is set (no surprise here), at the Academy and mostly follows a new cast of young cadets, though the main figures of Kirk, Spock, Uhura, etc. are part of a frame. I don’t know if more will be forthcoming, but the potential is there, even if this first foray doesn’t fully meet it.

As mentioned, the major Star Trek characters are involved in the framing story (really “frame” is a bit of a misnomer as... Read More

The Sudden Appearance of Hope: An SF thriller about self-identity

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The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

Hope Arden has an unusual problem: people forget her. It’s not that they don’t see and hear her, but that once she’s out of sight, she’s out of mind. They completely forget her and their interactions with her. This makes it impossible to have friends, colleagues, a career, and even just a job. She survives by stealing what she needs. Hope isn’t happy, but she’s doing the best she can.

Things change after Hope steals a diamond necklace at a fancy party hosted by a software company that produces a popular life-coaching app called “Perfection.” This app monitors all aspects of its users’ lives, making suggestions about what to wear, what and how much to eat, where to go, who to talk to, etc. It awards points... Read More

Arena: Sex, drugs and virtual gaming

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Arena by Holly Jennings

In the year 2054, virtual gaming has become a major sport with a huge following, and the RAGE tournaments are the ultimate competition, a virtual fight to the death between two five-person teams. The death matches take place in a simple virtual world: a field of tall wheatgrass and two stone towers, one tower assigned to each team. The rules are simple ― kill everyone (in a virtual kind of way) on the opposing team ― but real-world strength and skills translate directly to this virtual world, so rigorous physical training and well-developed martial arts skills in real life are critical.

Kali Ling is a member of Team Defiance, which is favored in the main tournament. But then things quickly start to go wrong for Kali and Defiance, following ... Read More

The Fall: Worthy sequel delivers on dark and weighty promise of The Strain

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The Fall by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan
Authors Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan move the world of their apocalyptic vampire saga to a darker place in the second of their STRAIN trilogy, The Fall. This second volume is short, at less than 300 pages, and makes for a satisfying companion when read back-to-back with the first in the trilogy, The Strain. I will reference some spoilers to The Strain below, since this is a series that needs to be read in chronological order.
The sunset of humankind is the dawn of the blood harvest.
At the end of The Strain Read More

Supervillains Anonymous: Cool premise, confusing plot

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Supervillains Anonymous by Lexie Dunne

I really wanted to like Supervillains Anonymous, by Lexie Dunne. The first book in the series, Superheroes Anonymous, was pretty fun and I was looking forward to seeing what happened after its cliffhanger ending, when Hostage Girl (aka Gail Godwin) was falsely accused of the murder of her close friend and superhero mentor, Angelica. Unfortunately, this second installment wasn’t as satisfying as the first; in fact, I found it very confusing and ended up not finishing it.

It started off well, though. As usual, Dunne’s writing is light-hearted, with a... Read More

When Worlds Collide: More than mere spectacle

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When Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie & Edwin Balmer

To look at the astronomical statistics, you would think that planet Earth is a sitting duck. In our teensy immediate neighborhood of the galaxy alone, there are over 14,000 asteroids zipping about, not to mention over 100 near-Earth comets. Asteroids of over one kilometer in diameter have hit the Earth, it is approximated, twice every million years during the planet’s history; those of five kilometers, every 20 million years. Every 2,000 years, it has been said, a chunk of space matter collides with or explodes over the Earth causing a 10-megaton blast, such as the one (size unknown) that fell over Siberia on June 30, 1908 – the so-called Tunguska event – which flattened almost 800 square miles of forest. And these are all relatively small pieces of whizzing space rock, mind you; compara... Read More

The Strain: del Toro builds modern mythology on top of old-school vampire horror

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The Strain by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan

Abraham Setrakian had witnessed and survived horrible evil when he was a young man. He’d made it out of a Nazi death camp in Poland, but the horror brought about by the Germans was not what kept the professor awake at night. It was the Stroigoi — the vampire — he’d seen feed on his camp mates. It was this that haunted Setrakian. And now it was time for revenge.
What he saw before him was not an omen — it was an incursion. It was the act itself. The thing he had been waiting for. That he had been preparing for. All his life until now.
The Strain, the first book in THE STRAIN trilogy, is a very good modern vampire horror story. There are no moody teenagers battling hormones and vampire/werewolf love triangles. Renowned movie icon Read More