SFF Reviews

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The Sleeper and the Spindle: Another treat from a favourite storyteller

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman's latest offering defies the conventions of your typical fairy tale not just in content but format as well. You won't be able to sit down and read this to your child in one sitting as despite the multiple illustrations, for the story is lengthy and the font small.

Perhaps then it's better described as a fairy tale for adults, though I've always shied away from putting age restrictions on these types of stories. Let's go with calling it an illustrated short story that will be highly enjoyed by people of all ages with an interest in dark and twisted fairy tales.

The Queen of a faraway land is about to be married, at least until the arrival of three dwarfs bringing her news of events in the neighbouring kingdom. A sleeping curse has been laid upon a fair princess, but rather than the spell remaining confined to the castle in which she slumbers, it ... Read More

Spellcasting in Silk: Another great audio installment

Spellcasting in Silk by Juliet Blackwell

Think of Juliet Blackwell’s WITCHCRAFT MYSTERY series as paranormal cozy mysteries. Each stands alone and deals with a relatively non-gory murder committed by a seemingly upstanding member of the San Francisco Haight-Ashbury community where Lily Ivory owns a vintage clothing shop. Being a witch, Lily has some amateur detective skills that Carlos Romero, the handsome local homicide detective, finds helpful. In each installment, Lily, who can be a little nosey (as any amateur detective is), helps solve the case. As the series advances, new characters are added, Lily’s business grows, and her love life evolves. Although each murder mystery stands alone, I recommend reading the WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES in order so that you don’t miss Lily’s character development.

I would also highly (highly!) recommend that you read these in audio format, even if you’re ... Read More

Slow Bullets: Small, but packs a punch

Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

Slow Bullets
is the latest addition to Alastair Reynolds’ impressive body of work, a slim novella which he manages to fill with plausible far-future technology, interstellar war, and questions of identity and legacy.

Scurelya “Scur” Timsuk Shunde is a soldier for the Peripheral Systems, which are at war with the Central Worlds. One of the central points of conflict are the Books which each side holds sacred; while never explicitly named, the Books share several common tenets, and are clearly religious in nature. This war has gone on for a long time, ranging across countless star systems, but a ceasefire has finally been declared. Of course, after extended periods of conflict, it can be difficult to convince people that peace has been achieved. Orvin, a vicious war criminal who is wanted by both sides, captures Scur and implants a modified “slow bu... Read More

Dark Eden: Lord of the Flies in Space

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

Chris Beckett’s Dark Eden has a backstory to rival the book of Genesis. Several generations ago, two humans, Tommy and Gela, survived a crash-landing on a planet without a sun. The planet was not devoid of life or light, though; glowing plants and animals survived by feeding off of the planet’s thermal energy. On this new planet, which they called Eden, Tommy and Gela have children, becoming the Adam and Eve of a new race of humans.

Now, generations later, their progeny, several dozen people, many of whom are afflicted with birth defects and called “batfaces” or “clawfeet,” live huddled together in a relatively safe area of Eden, frightened to explore beyond the snowy mountains or deep waters that border their land. A young man, John Redlantern, wants to change that. Defying the orders of the clan’s leader, David, the charismatic John gathers a group of dissenters... Read More

Shadow Show: Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury by various authors and artists

Shadow Show: Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury by various authors and artists

Shadow Show is a graphic adaptation of a previously released anthology of the same name. That collection rounded up a host of well-known authors and asked them to write original stories inspired by and/or as a tribute to Ray Bradbury. The graphic version, which uses just a few of the stories from the original anthology, includes:

“By the Silver Waters of Lake Champlain” by Joe Hill
“The Man Who Forgot Ray Brad... Read More

The Tarot Café (Volume 1) by Sang-Sun Park

The Tarot Café (Volume 1) by Sang-Sun Park

The Tarot Café (Volume 1) by Sang-Sun Park is a light manhwa that is a pleasant read, particularly if the reader has any interest in Tarot cards. The story is straight-forward: Pamela, the owner of the Tarot Café, is a psychic who provides readings during the day for the regular clientele one would expect to seek out psychic help. However, at night she assists an unusual set of customers, including in this first volume a Cat, a... Read More

Film Review: The Tingler

The Tingler: This movie really IS a scream!

In 1958, director William Castle delivered to the world a film that has been chilling the collective backbones of horror buffs for over half a century now: House on Haunted Hill. And the following year, in one of the greatest one-two punches in horror history, Castle came up with a film that is certainly every bit as good, and perhaps, arguably, even better. In The Tingler, Castle brought back much of his team from the previous picture — leading man Vincent Price, screenwriter Robb White, composer Von Dexter — and again shot his production in uber-creepy B&W (with the notable exception of one scene, in which the color red features prominently). The result was another horror masterpiece (this one with some decided sci-fi overtones), another compact chiller for the ages, and another film in which Castle's gift for gimmickry was memorably on display. But whereas House works well... Read More

Serafina and the Black Cloak: Plot problems outweigh engaging protagonist

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Serafina and the Black Cloak, a Middle Grade book by Robert Beatty, has its moments, but a thin plot, a meandering middle segment, and several gaps of logic/plausibility come close to outweighing its positives, and probably will outweigh them for any readers older than middle grade.

Set at the opulent Biltmore Estate in 1899 (and having been there, oh my, is it opulent), the story is centered on a sudden rash of disappearances amongst the children at the Estate. Serafina, is the young daughter of the mechanic at the Estate, and the two of them, for reasons that are a mystery to Serafina, live secretly in the basement of the mansion. While her father is well known to Vanderbilt (her dad is responsible for maintaining the dynamo that provides the home with the then new-fangled electricity), Serafina's existence is known to none. Their secret, ho... Read More

Red Planet: A children’s adventure on Mars

Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein

I’ve mentioned several times how much I loved Robert A. Heinlein’s “Juveniles” when I was a kid. I found them on my dad’s bookshelves (I don’t think he’s ever gotten rid of a book) and I read some of them several times. If you had asked me last week which was my favorite, I would have said “Red Planet.” I remember loving this book, though all I could recall about it was a cute fuzzy round alien named Willis who bounces around like a basketball, and a couple of boys crossing the desolate landscape of Mars.

Last week, with much anticipation, I downloaded Red Planet (1949) from Audible so that I could listen to it with my 12 year old daughter, Tali. I was so excited to share this story with her. In the opening scene we met Willis, and Tali loved him as mu... Read More

Film Review: The Land Unknown

The Land Unknown: Features the most memorable pickup line in screen history

The "lost world" sci-fi/adventure movie The Land Unknown is available today on a single DVD, or as part of Universal Studios' Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection, just one of 10 films in this impressive box set. Perhaps not coincidentally, in the box set it shares a disc with another film, The Deadly Mantis, with which it has much in common. For starters, both Universal films were released in 1957 (May for The Deadly Mantis and August for The Land Unknown), both were shot in B&W, and both, strangely enough, clock in at precisely 78 compact minutes. In addition, the two films both feature prehistoric monsters, a polar setting (the North Pole for the earlier film, Antarctica for The Land Unknown), the use of well-integrated stock footage, some dry, scientific narration at the film's opening, and a female character who happens to be a... Read More

Outlander: Verra, verra dull

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

When a novel has as much buzz surrounding it as Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander (New York Times #1 Bestseller! Published in 40 countries!) it’s impossible not to approach it without certain expectations. What’s more, a new TV show based on the book has recently been developed, and is touted to be the next Game of Thrones. All of which had me asking the question: are we talking about the same book here?

Outlander opens in Inverness, 1946, just after World War II. Claire Randall is a British Army nurse and is currently on a second honeymoon in Scotland with her husband Frank. On a walk to collect plants (she’s particularly interested in their medicinal properties) she encounters a circle of huge standing stones – think Stonehenge, but in the Scottish Highlands. The stone circle, it turns out, is some kind ... Read More

Dying Inside: Inside the mind of a mind reader

Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg

Although author Robert Silverberg had come out with no fewer than 21 major science-fiction novels between the years 1967 and '71, by 1972, his formerly unstoppable output was beginning to slow down. He released only two novels in '72, The Book of Skulls, in which four young men seek the secret of immortality in the desert Southwest, and one of his most renowned, Dying Inside. After this latter work, there would be no full-length works until 1975's The Stochastic Man and 1976's Shadrach in the Furnace, which work put an end to Silverberg's famous "second phase" ... till he came roaring back four years later with the commencement of his Majipoor cycle. The novel in question, Dying... Read More

The Einstein Intersection: New Wave SF with style but story lacks discipline

The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany

It doesn't get any more New Wave SF than this very slim 1968 Nebula-winning novel (157 pages), and it's hard to imagine anything like this being written today. The Einstein Intersection is a mythical retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice story in a far-future Earth populated by the mutated remnants of humanity. Being a Samuel R. Delany book, the writing is disjointed, jazzy, lyrical, playful, and tantalizing. The surface events are fairly obscure, but it's clear that the real narrative is buried beneath, and in case you didn't catch on, every chapter has several obscure (and fairly pretentious) quotes from intellectuals, not least of all the author himself, who inserts between chapters snippets of his journals from his artistic travels in the Mediterranean while writing this book, in classic meta-fiction style. Even in a longer book I’d view this literary ... Read More

Uprooted: On my Best of 2015 list

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I loved Uprooted, by Naomi Novik, and I’m going to spend this review telling you exactly why. This post will be long and opinionated. I recommend you read Kate’s great review of this book, too.

Agnieszka (Ag-NESH-ka), daughter of a woodcutter, lives in a remote valley. The valley is menaced by the Wood, a source of frightening evil and corruption. It is different from the nearby forest, where Agnieszka spends much of her time. The valley is home to a powerful wizard called the Dragon, who holds back the Wood. Every ten years the Dragon takes a seventeen-year-old girl from the valley villages to serve him in his tower. It is the tenth year, and Agnieszka is seventeen.

What do I love about this lush fantasy nove... Read More

Fiendish Schemes: Delightfully droll

Fiendish Schemes by K.W. Jeter

Fiendish Schemes is a recent (2013) sequel to K.W. Jeter’s classic steampunk novel Infernal Devices which I have previously reviewed. Jeter, who inadvertently coined the term “steampunk” and writes in a style similar to his friend James P. Blaylock, is probably an acquired taste. Personally, I love his droll overblown style, his eccentric and morose characters who tend to be paranoid and suicidal, and his absurd plots. If you’re a fan of Blaylock, Jack Vance Read More

Stella Fregelius: Nothing to apologize for

Stella Fregelius: A Tale of Three Destinies by H. Rider Haggard

At the beginning of his 25th novel, Stella Fregelius (1903), H. Rider Haggard deemed it necessary to offer an apology to his public. In this brief foreword, the author warns prospective readers that Stella is not one of his typical tales, and one with "few exciting incidents." Indeed, those expecting the typical Haggardian mix of lost races, African adventure, big-game hunting, massive battle scenes and historical sweep may be disappointed with this book. However, I feel that Rider Haggard need not have bothered with an apology, as Stella Fregelius turns out to be one of his most beautifully written, deeply felt and truly romantic works.

Free Kindle ver... Read More

The Years of Rice and Salt: What if the Black Plague killed the Europeans?

The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson

In The Years of Rice and Salt, Kim Stanley Robinson uses the Black Plague to remove the Europeans, leaving the Old World to the Chinese, Islam, and the many cultural groups that end up in India. The Chinese discover the Americas, their diseases spread through the Native American populations, and their armies plunder the Incans. The novel begins with the Plague, but its vignettes move from one period of history to the next until it reaches the end of the 20th century.

How do you write a novel about one set of characters that spans centuries? Robinson uses reincarnation to cast a set of souls in various times and places as he follows his alternate history. The characters can always be told by the first letter of their names. Bold, a soldier, eventually becomes... Read More

Field of Dishonor: The Mary Sue goes Terminator

Field of Dishonor by David Weber

David Weber’s Field of Dishonor is the fourth book in the HONOR HARRINGTON series. I have read On Basilisk Station, the first book, but not the intervening ones (though Kat has.) This review may contain spoilers for the previous books.

I liked this book more than On Basilisk Station because there was slightly less lecturing, but the entertainment value is frequently squashed flat by Honor’s perfection and the ease with which things unfold for her. Honor plays the videogame of her fictional life on the Easy setting, even when she goes Terminator on an enemy.

At this point in Honor Harrington’s career she ha... Read More

Ascendant Sun: A weird mix of hard SF and erotica

Ascendant Sun by Catherine Asaro

This review will contain spoilers for previous books.

I keep working through Catherine Asaro’s SKOLIAN EMPIRE series. I keep expecting to love the next book, but here I am on book five and it’s still not working for me.

Ascendant Sun is a sequel to The Radiant Seas and a direct sequel to The Last Hawk which, frankly, I didn’t like. The Last Hawk was about Kelric, a prince of the Skolian Empire, who crash-landed and was held prisoner for 18 years on a planet with a matriarchal society. I didn’t believe in the society and I didn’t believe in Kelric’s reaction to it. Ascendant Sun, which picks up where The Last Hawk left off, i... Read More

Magazine Monday: Hugo-Nominated Short Stories, 2014

The short stories nominated for the Hugo Award this year are a disappointing lot. I read a great many stories in 2014 that were far better than at least four of these tales.

“Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa is told in the first person by an artificial intelligence that is a warship in space. It compares the physical humans who inhabit it to “symbiotic bacteria” that do not trust it fully and therefore do not allow it to travel without their company. It takes its orders from “posthumans,” who have uploaded themselves to machines and become the Immortal Uploaded. The story is essentially about the narrator working out whether it is worthwhile to keep humans around. Although the theme has been worked and reworked over the last few decades, there is still a lot to explore.

But Rzasa is too focused on the glory of war to probe the provocative philosophical questions that should be th... Read More

Blind Lake: Lockdown at an Interplanetary Observation Facility

Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson

Of course I know what to expect when reading one of Robert Charles Wilson’s novels: a strange technology or entity has a localized effect that snowballs until it has the potential to completely change the world. We follow the ride primarily from the point of view of one everyman character, but he just happens to know both the scientists and the politicians that are responding to the strange technology. 300 pages later, the story is finished.

But that’s not how Blind Lake works — or at least not exactly.

Yes, there is a strange technology — the O/BECs. Are the O/BECs like telescopes? Well, they allow us to see distant planets, including one that hosts sentient life (aliens!). The center of these machines is referred to as “eyeball alley,” but perhaps the true center of these machines is their quantum technology and adaptive cod... Read More

The Short Victorious War: Honor feels more human

The Short Victorious War by David Weber

So far I have not much cared for David Weber’s extremely popular HONOR HARRINGTON series. In the first two books, On Basilisk Station and The Honor of the Queen, I thought there was way too much exposition and that Honor was cold and distant and too much of a Mary Sue (here are my reviews). It’s hard for me to enjoy a series if I don’t like its protagonist unless it has some other excellent qualities that can make up for that. I decided to give Honor Harrington another try, though, because Marion has recently written a review for the fourth book, Field of Dishonor, and I already had the third book, The Short Victorious War, in my Audibl... Read More

Nova: A New-Wave Grail Quest space opera from the 1960s

Nova by Samuel R. Delany

Nova is Samuel "Chip" Delany's 1968 space opera with mythic/Grail Quest overtones. It is packed with different themes, subtexts, allegorical and cultural references, and literary experiments, and the young author (just 25 years old) is clearly a very talented, intelligent, and passionate writer.

But I didn't enjoy it, sadly. While I thought Babel-17 was a very fast-paced, vivid and engaging space opera that centered on language and identity, Nova felt very turgid and forced. Why, you ask? Well, the author was determined to mold the story along the lines of a Grail Quest, Moby Dick, and Jason and the Argonauts, with the goal being a race to retrieve the super-material Illyrion from the heart of a recently-explode... Read More

Justice, Inc.: Fun, but a little overstuffed

Justice, Inc. by Michael Uslan (Author), Giovanni Timpano (Illustrator), Alex Ross (Illustrator)

Justice, Inc.
is a complete storyline mashup of three pulp heroes: Doc Savage, The Shadow, and The Avenger. Written by Michael Uslan and drawn by Giovanni Timpano, the end result is a bit mixed, and some of one's enjoyment will probably be based on one's awareness of those three in their original incarnations, as well as the ability to pick up on some inside jokes in the text/artwork.

The three are brought together by a major threat from several pulp villains whom I won't name as one of them is (I think) meant to be a behind-the-curtain "big reveal" kind of moment. What is an interesting twist in this particular mash-up tale is that while The Shadow and The Avenger are their old selves, Doc Savage is the contemporary version, with this time travel thread made possible via a su... Read More

Film Review: The Deadly Mantis

The Deadly Mantis: DEW or die

By the time the sci-fi shocker The Deadly Mantis premiered in May 1957, American audiences had already been regaled by a steady stream of giant-monster movies on the big screen, starting with 1953's classic The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. In 1954, Them!, with its monstrously large ants, kicked off a subgenre of sorts, the giant-insect movie, and Tarantula would follow in 1955. After The Deadly Mantis, The Beginning of the End (giant grasshoppers), Monster From Green Hell (giant wasps), Earth vs. the Spider and Attack of the Giant Leeches soon appeared to stun and amaze moviegoers. Unlike most of those other films, however, TDM featured a giant monster that was not the result of radioactive bombardment or an H-bomb blast, but that was just naturally humongous: a prehistoric entity released via natural phenomenon.

I... Read More