SFF Reviews

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American Gods: Mixed opinions

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is a bad land for Gods... The old gods are ignored. The new gods are as quickly taken up as they are abandoned, cast aside for the next big thing. Either you've been forgotten, or you're scared you're going to be rendered obsolete, or maybe you're just getting tired of existing on the whims of people.

Shadow, just out of prison and with nothing to go home to, is hired to be Mr. Wednesday's bodyguard as he travels around America to warn all the other incarnations of gods, legends, and myths, that “a storm is coming.” There's going to be a battle between the old gods who were brought to melting pot America by their faithful followers generations ago, and the new gods of technology, convenience, and individuality.

That's the premise of Read More

Fatale (Vol. 1): Death Chases Me: A must-read for fans of noir or Lovecraft

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Fatale (Vol. 1): Death Chases Me by Ed Brubaker

Death Chases Me is the first of five volumes in the Fatale series by Ed Brubaker and his frequent collaborator Sean Phillips. In the prologue to this story, Nicolas Lash is attending the funeral of his Godfather, Dominic Raines. Dominic was known as a hack writer of detective novels, but still, when Nicolas, as executor of the Raines estate, returns to Dominic’s home and finds the manuscript of Dominic’s unpublished first novel, it’s quite a find and possibly one with monetary rewards. But at the funeral, Nicolas already has made a more important discovery, of which he is unaware: He has met the mysterious woman, the femme fatale of the story, who goes by the simple name of Jo. When she shows up at the estate that night as Nicolas discovers the manuscript, all hell breaks lose and Nicolas’s life ... Read More

The Brethren: Another doozy from H. Rider Haggard

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The Brethren by H. Rider Haggard

In January 1900, British author H. Rider Haggard and his family ventured forth on a nice long vacation. As revealed in D.S. Higgins’ 1981 biography, the first part of this holiday was beset by bad weather, sickness and delays, as the Haggards made their way from London and on to Italy and Cyprus. But once the family reached the Holy Land, apparently, conditions improved significantly, and the world-famous author was so taken by the many historic sights that he saw there that the experience inspired him to write no fewer than three books: A Winter Pilgrimage (1901), a nonfiction travelogue of his journey; Pearl-Maiden (1903), which dealt with the fall of Jerusalem following the crucifixion of Christ; and the novel in question, ... Read More

Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution

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Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution by Menno Schilthuizen

At the close of his exploration of the somewhat oxymoronic “urban nature,” Menno Schilthuizen tells us that one of his aims is that “the urban organisms you see on your daily wanderings of the city streets will  become more special, more interesting, worthy of more than a casual glance.” Schilthuizen, I’d say, is more likely to succeed than not in achieving his goal, as Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution (2018) is a delightfully informative whose insights are enthusiastically and clearly conveyed.

Schilthuizen loses no time in introducing us to a different way of viewing our noisome, concrete and metal cityscapes, opening up with a description of how:
the inner city, for all its hustle and bustle and thoroughly unnatural ap... Read More

The Overneath: And assorted interesting stories

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Overneath by Peter S. Beagle

It must be hard to be a literary icon, late in your career. You’ve ascended the literary heights and amassed an adoring following who still expect you never to repeat, and even improve upon your previous genius with each new work. But I’m not sorry for Peter S. Beagle, nor his latest short story collection The Overneath, which came out in November of 2017.

Most striking, to me, is that Beagle manages each new tale with a distinct, and yet perfectly effortless narrative voice. No problem with that whole repetition worry. There is none here. His narratives roll out rich in otherworldly wonder.

He does revisit the unicorn theme in this collection with b... Read More

The Eterna Files: Couldn’t entice me to move on to book two

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The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber

Just after President Lincoln’s assassination, his wife Mary sets a governmental task force to find a cure for death, thus setting in motion the plot of The Eterna Files (2015) by Leanna Renee Hieber. Seventeen years later, the science team working on the Eterna Compound is mysteriously murdered, as is a parallel team in England, where Queen Victoria wants Britain, not America, to be the first to discover an answer to mortality. Both countries seek to find out what happened to their teams, as well as learn what the other nation has or has not discovered. In America, sensitive Clara Templeton is the main protagonist, helped by a small group of fellow paranormals, including her ... Read More

Luna: Wolf Moon: Fighting over dust and sunlight

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Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald

Luna: Wolf Moon (2017) continues the saga Ian McDonald began in Luna: New Moon, which explored the power struggles between the Five Dragons, five powerful families controlling certain areas of influence on Earth’s moon. Each family, in turn, adheres to a national identity which dictates how they do business, what sort of business they do, and who they’re most likely to (figuratively and literally) stab in the back at the nearest opportunity while simultaneously marrying their offspring to one another in attempts to gain influence or construct gossamer-thin alliances. If crazy-rich people behaving badly is your thing, then I have very good news for you, because Read More

Head On: We’ll be seeing this on 2018 awards and “best of” lists

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Marion and Terry discuss Head On. Marion's words are in black and Terry's are in blue.

Head On
by John Scalzi

Marion: John Scalzi’s 2018 novel Head On brings back FBI team Chris Shane and Leslie Vann, this time investigating a murder that should be impossible. Hilketa is a violent game where the objective is to tear off the head of a specific opposing player and throw it through the goal posts, while defensive players whale on each other with swords and chainsaws. While it sounds bloodthirsty, no one is hurt; the players are high-tech androids called “threeps” (after the beloved C-3PO) controlled by those individuals who have “lock-in syndrome” and function via robot or entirely within the internet. These people are calle... Read More

Winter Tide: Great premise, but it drags

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Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

I love the premise of Winter Tide. It's about a sister and brother (Aphra and Caleb Marsh) who were living in Innsmouth when it was invaded by the U.S. government in 1928 (a fictional town and event created by H.P. Lovecraft). The Marshes and their neighbors were descendants, and worshipers, of the Great Old Ones…. you know, like Dagon and Cthulhu. Paranoid, the government sent them to detention camps, keeping them there until the Japanese-Americans were released from the camps in 1946. Away from the ocean and their gods, only siblings Aphra and Caleb survived the experience.

Now the government wants their help. The cold war has begun and there is some intel suggesting the Russians are trying ... Read More

Tricks for Free: Left me unsatisfied

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Tricks for Free by Seanan McGuire

Tricks for Free, (2018) Seanan McGuire’s latest in the INCRYPTID series, left me the least satisfied of the series books to date. I’ll get into what disappointed me later in the review. As is always the case with the series, there are plenty of things to enjoy and I’d like to talk about those first.

Tricks for Free is the second book featuring the “baby” of the Price family, Antimony, who usually goes by Annie. This synopsis may contain spoilers for Magic for Nothing, the first Antimony Price book.

Previously, Annie went undercover in England to infiltrate the Convenant, a... Read More

Buried Heart: Forced to pick a side

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Buried Heart by Kate Elliott

In Night Flower, Kiya and Esladas met and fell in love, beginning a journey that would, eventually, shake the city of Saryenia to its very foundation. In Court of Fives, their daughter Jessamy got her heart’s desire, the chance to train as a Court of Fives runner, at the cost of her family’s safety. In Poisoned Blade, Jes did everything she could to reunite her loved ones while rooting out royal corruption, but it wasn’t enough. In Bright Thrones, Jes’ twin Bettany put her depthless anger... Read More

LIFEL1K3: Star-crossed lovers in a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk world

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LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff

Jay Kristoff’s YA post-apocalyptic novel LIFEL1K3 (2018) stars seventeen-year-old Eve as its tough, fauxhawk-sporting protagonist. Eve is a gifted mechanic who lives with her grandfather, her only relative, in a post-apocalyptic island version of “Kalifornya” called the Dregs. She has a cybernetic eye and a memory drive (“Memdrive”) implanted in the side of her head, with silicon chips behind her ear that give her fragmentary memories of her childhood and supply her with other useful life skills. Eve’s secret pastime ― at least it’s secret from Grandpa ― is engaging in robot deathmatches to fund Grandpa’s anticancer meds. Eve’s besties are a feisty redhead named Lemon Fresh, whose name comes from the box in which she was found abandoned as ... Read More

The Delirium Brief: The Laundry’s in big trouble

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The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross

The Delirium Brief, which is a finalist for the 2018 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, is the eighth novel in Charles StrossLAUNDRY FILES. Don’t even bother with it if you haven’t read most of the previous novels — you’ll be totally lost. (And, of course, my review of this installment will contain some spoilers for the previous books.)

For decades the Laundry, a heretofore unknown British government agency, has been protecting its citizens (and others around the world) from the eldritch horrors that exist outside our universe. In modern times, the way these entities usually breach the veil between worlds is through the activities of unwitting hackers, mathematicians, and philosophers who start poking aro... Read More

Tool of War: Augmented YA

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Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi

Paolo Bacigalupi’s Tool of War (2017) is the third entry in a series of futuristic novels in which catastrophic climate change projections have come to pass. The American seaboard is flooded, and the United States government has been overtaken by transnational organizations. The most stunning technological breakthroughs are in gene editing, and elite organizations own “augments,” creatures that are part human and part animal, part slave and part soldier. The main character here, Tool, is the greatest of the augments because he can defy his training and act independently. Who knows what he might be capable of?

Tool of War is also a sort of augment, part YA and part techno-thriller. Unlike the best techno th... Read More

Artificial Condition: Artificial intelligences with real personalities and concerns

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Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

The illicit adventures of Murderbot continue in Artificial Condition (2018), the terrific sequel to Martha Wells’ 2017 Nebula award-winning novella, All Systems Red. Murderbot, a deeply introverted cyborg security unit, or SecUnit, who previously hacked the governor software that forced obedience to human commands, has illegally gone off the grid, eschewing the safety of a mostly-free life with a sympathetic owner in order to travel on its own. Disguising itself as an augmented human, Murderbot takes off for the mining facility space station where, it understands, it once murdered a group of humans that it was charged with protecting, though its memory... Read More

Edgedancer: Snappy and surefooted

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Edgedancer
 by Brandon Sanderson

I've always been a sucker for an enfant terrible. The Peter Pans and Pippi Longstockings of the literary world would be hugely annoying if they actually showed up in the real world, of course, but in fiction it's a fun archetype. Brandon Sanderson's Edgedancer (2017) is all about such a character, and so consequently I had a great deal of fun with it. Readers with a lower tolerance for goofball ragamuffins might have a different experience (as per his usual, Sanderson is not content to merely toy with a trope, but totally commits), but I think that for most, this will be a charming read.

Edgedancer is a sidestory in the broader ... Read More

The Secret Service: Fun story, but glorifies violence

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The Secret Service: Kingsman, by Mark Millar, is about a young man, Eggsy, being rescued from rough, poor neighborhoods by his uncle, who takes him under his wing and trains him in a new profession. The twist is that his uncle, Jack London, is not in computer work like Eggsy thinks; actually, his uncle’s job is as a spy for his country. Our young man is sent to a spy school and, given that the rest of the spies-in-training are from upper-class families, he sticks out in a number of ways, including not being able to act with a certain amount of class socially. This story is about his learning his trade and getting to put it to good use by the end of the book.

The Secret Service: Kingsman can be divided into three storylines: First, the book is about a man wanting to do well and come back to take care of his mother and get revenge on his mother’s abusive boyfriend. Eggsy’s... Read More

84K: The value of a human life

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84K by Claire North

Claire North brings a haunting and all-too-realistic vision of the near-future to life for her most recent novel, 84K (2018), in which an already-existing real world injustice is pushed to its natural limit: every possible crime and infraction are assigned a monetary value, from murder to petty theft and everything in between, and wealthy citizens escape punishment by simply paying the appropriate fine. Those who cannot pay their fine are, at best, interned in working penitentiaries known as “the patty line,” making cosmetics and frozen dinners and shiny baubles that they could never afford, and at worst... well, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

Parliament isn’t really Parliament anymore; along with stripping basic rights from every single person... Read More

Neverwhere: Wonderfully fantastical setting

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere is a novel that improved dramatically for me on reread, which actually was a surprise to me. I originally read it about six years ago when, in an odd twist worthy of London Below, it mysteriously appeared one day on my clunky Kindle 2, without my having ordered it. About a month later it just as mysteriously disappeared again (luckily I had finished it just in time). I was fascinated by the marvelous and imaginative setting of Neverwhere and London Below, but only mildly entertained by the plot, which ― other than the beginning and the end ― I found quite forgettable.

Still, when I was offered the chance to read a 2016 edition of Neverwhere with the “author’s preferred text” and illustrations by Chri... Read More

Hearts of Tabat: A lush beautiful world on the edge of a revolution

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Hearts of Tabat by Cat Rambo

Cat Rambo’s Hearts of Tabat (2018) is the second book in the Tabat Quartet. I love the beautiful, strange world Rambo has created here. I understood nearly everything that was going on in this book, so technically it qualifies as a standalone, but I see that reading the first book, Beasts of Tabat, first would probably have answered some questions and added richness to an already lush tapestry of a story.

Tabat is on a world that is filled with humans, magic and Beasts who are made of magic. Beasts are enslaved by the humans, considered less than animals (although they are used as beasts of burden) and consumed, literally, for the magical power in their flesh, bones and blood. Adelina Nettlepurse is the daugh... Read More

Magic Shifts: Suburban troubles and Arabian nightmares

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Magic Shifts by Ilona Andrews

In Magic Shifts (2015), the eighth book in Ilona AndrewsKATE DANIELS urban fantasy series, Kate and Curran struggle with both old, ongoing problems ― in the form of Pack politics and Kate’s father Roland ― and new ones. *obligatory spoiler alert here for earlier books in the series*

Kate and her werelion mate Curran, who has resigned as Beast Lord of Atlanta's huge pack of shapeshifters, are now trying to live a more ordinary, circumspect suburban life among humans, with mixed results. Some of the neighbors are alarmed at Curran's walking around the neighborhood in his immense lion form (“He is patrolling,” Kate informs her nosiest neighbor, protecting the area), and Kate finds out that several of their shapesh... Read More

King of Ashes: Feels a bit too “been there, done that”

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King of Ashes by Raymond E. Feist

Back in the 1980s, like a lot of people, I was eagerly consuming Raymond E. Feist’s RIFTWAR SAGA, which began with Magician: Apprentice and continued onward through a host of novels. I loved Magician, though I have little memory of it, and read the next few books in the series, though eventually I lost track, whether that was due to lack of interest or not, I have no idea. But Feist ended RIFTWAR a few years ago and is now back with a new book — King of Ashes — and series — THE FIREMANE SAGA Read More

Armistice: Plots and plans

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Armistice by Lara Elena Donnelly

Lara Elena Donnelly continues THE AMBERLOUGH DOSSIER with Armistice (2018), a worthy sequel to her Nebula- and Lambda-nominated novel Amberlough. Three years have passed since the fascist Ospies took over Amberlough City and its surrounding lands, bringing tremendous change and hardship to the lives of the people who oppose them. If you haven’t yet read Amberlough, I strongly suggest doing so before reading any reviews of Armistice, to avoid even minor spoilers for this brilliant, twisty series.

Cordelia Lehane, hip-deep in a resistance movement cleverly named “the Catwal... Read More

SFM: 2018 Locus Award finalists

Today's Short Fiction Monday column features all of the 2018 Locus Award finalists for short fiction. The Locus Award winners will be announced by Connie Willis during Locus Award weekend, June 22 - June 24, 2018.

NOVELLAS:

In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle (2017)

Claudio, a middle-aged curmudgeonly farmer living in a remote area of the Italian countryside, has been a standoffish loner since his wife left him decades ago. He’s satisfied with his current lifestyle, taking care of his land and his animals, and writing poetry that he shares with no one.

Everything changes one morning when a unicorn shows up on his farm. The pure and beautiful unicorn inspires C... Read More

Lady Killer: Very funny, dark, hard to stop reading

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Lady Killer (Vols. 1 & 2) by Jamie S. Rich & Joelle Jones

Lady Killer is a very funny, though dark, story about the troubles a woman faces when she works out of the home, balancing job and family, in the early 1960s. The twist, however, is that Josie Schuller’s work is that of a contract killer in heels. The humor comes in because her family — husband, two daughters, and live-in mother-in-law — are all clueless. Well, except maybe for the mother-in-law who is beginning to suspect something is not quite right with her all-too-perfect looking daughter-in-law.

The story is funny because it has all the clichés of the suburban family from the time period: The father with his feet up on the table watching TV after work while the wife, looking her best, prepares dinner for a largely unthankful family. The boss and his wife come ... Read More