We Love This!

Here are some things we really love. We hope you’ll love them, too!

The Winter of the Witch: From golden firebird to Golden Horde, it’s all gold

Reposting to include Bill's new review:

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Medieval Russia comes to life in Katherine Arden’s WINTERNIGHT TRILOGY, which began in Lesnaya Zemlya, a small village in northern Rus’ in The Bear and the Nightingale and continued in The Girl in the Tower. Vasilisa (Vasya) is a young woman with the rare ability to see and speak with the natural spirits or chyerti of the hearth, stables, and lands and waters of Rus’. Vasya has gained the attention and respect of the winter-king Read More

The Consuming Fire: A pure delight

The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi

In The Collapsing Empire, John Scalzi introduced us to an interstellar empire called The Interdependency, a collection of far-flung human habitats connected by a quantum event called the Flow. The Interdependency is ruled by an Emperox, and a new Emperox, one who never considered herself in the line of succession and never wanted the role, had just been crowned. At this time, Grayland II, as she named herself, discovered that the Flow was starting to collapse. There was powerful mathematical and empirical evidence that the collapses or shifts in the Flow would continue, cutting off planets from one another for millennia.

Book two of THE INTERDEPENDENCY, The Consuming Fire Read More

Wild Seed: Two African immortals battle for supremacy in early America

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

Wild Seed (1980) was written last in Octavia Butler’s 5-book PATTERNIST series, but comes first in chronology. The next books, by internal chronology, are Mind of My Mind (1977), Clay’s Ark (1984), and Patternmaster (1976). Butler was later unsatisfied with Survivor (1978) and elected to not have it reprinted, so I will focus on the main four volumes. Wild Seed is an origin story set well before later books and can stand on its own. It’s one of those books whose basic plot could be described in just a few paragraphs, but the themes it explores are deep, challenging, and thought-provoki... Read More

Our favorite books of 2018 (Giveaway!)

Here are our favorite books published in 2018. Hover over the cover to see who recommends each book. Click on the cover to read our review.

Please keep in mind that we did not read every SFF book published this year, so we know we’ve missed some good ones! Please add your comments — we’d love to hear your opinions about our list and to know which were YOUR favorite books of 2018. What did we miss? One commenter chooses a book from our stacks.

ADULT SFF



MIDDLE GRADE / YOUNG ADULT SFF



NON-FICTION Read More

Unholy Land: Going on my Best of 2018 list

Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar

I absolutely loved Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station (and was not alone in that), and while his newest, Unholy Land (2018), didn’t blow me away quite to the same extent, it kept me on the couch in “don’t talk to me I’m reading” and “uh-huh, uh-huh, ya don’t say, uh-huh” mode all afternoon while my family just rolled their eyes and gave up, as they know to do when all the signs of being engrossed in a great book are manifest (luckily, they live those moments as well, so it’s a fond eyeroll ... )

The novel is set in an alternate universe setting where the Jewish homeland of Palestina appears not in the Middle East but in East Africa, a homeland formed before the Final Solution... Read More

The Last Unicorn: Withstands the test of time

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Peter S. Beagle’s classic The Last Unicorn (1968) turns fifty years old this year, and it’s remained in the public eye and continues to capture hearts like very few fantasies of its age. Like a fine tapestry, this gorgeous fairy tale weaves together unicorns and harpies, wizards and witches, dark-hearted kings and brave heroes. Its lyrical language is embellished with whimsical humor and given heft by bittersweet life lessons.

A shy unicorn keeps to herself in her lilac wood, where time passes slowly, if at all, and leaves remain grain and never fall. But one day overhears passing hunters grumbling that they must be in the forest of a unicorn (“Creatures that live in a unicorn’s wood learn a little magic of their own in time, mainly concerned with disappearing”) and that this unicorn must be the last one in the world. Unable to find peace after hearing this, ... Read More

Spinning Silver: We all love this

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Let’s get this out of the way early. Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver (2018) is not perfect. It’s a little overlong, with a bit of a pacing issue about two-thirds of the way through. Beyond that, other problems include ... no, wait. I forgot. There are no other problems. And I lifted up each and every page to check under them. Zip. Nada. Nothing. So yeah, the biggest problem with Spinning Silver is kind of like the problem you have when the waiter brings out your chocolate cake dessert, and it’s a little bit bigger than you were planning on. Oh, the humanity.

My marketing info calls this a “retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin fairytale,” and sure, it’s that. But such a narrowly focused pitch does a real disservice to the richness that is Spinni... Read More

The Book Thief: A tale of a girl told by Death

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

"Here is a small fact. You are going to die."

It is Death who speaks the novel’s opening lines. And Death himself, for the duration of Markus Zusak’s bestselling novel, will be our narrator. It is 1939 in Nazi Germany and whilst he takes away an increasing amount of souls, Death muses on the unravelling of humanity.

Upon taking the soul of a young boy on a train, Death notices a girl. Her name is Liesel Meminger and she has just watched her brother die. Her mother takes her to a town called Molching, specifically to a street named Himmel, which translates as heaven. Here she is taken into the care of Rosa and Hans Hubermann, a German couple whose son has been lost in the war. With the death of her brother and abandonment of her mother, Liesel must come to terms with her new life under the watchful eye of Rosa, who swears at anything that moves (if she is not al... Read More

Psycho: The modern horror era begins

Psycho directed by Alfred Hitchcock

It is not every filmmaker who can manage the difficult trick of coming up with four consecutive masterpieces, but that is just what British director Alfred Hitchcock was able to do as the late 1950s segued into the '60s. His 1958 offering, Vertigo, took time to find its audience but today is recognized by the British Film Institute's Sight and Sound magazine as the single greatest motion picture ever made; 1959's North by Northwest is surely one of the all-time great entertainments; 1960's Psycho practically jump-started the modern-day horror industry all on its own, and remains the director's most well-known film; and 1963's The Birds is still a baby-boomer favorite to this day.

But of those four films, all of which reside on my personal Top 100 Favorite Films list, it is the third, Psycho, that remains my favorite after all these years, and indeed, I person... Read More

The Wizard Knight: A wonderful, deep, rewarding read

The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe

The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe is one of the best fantasy novels to appear in the last decade or so. The novel is split into two separate books, The Knight and The Wizard, but like Gene Wolfe’s classic BOOK OF THE NEW SUN, it’s really one big story split into separate volumes and best read back-to-back.

The Wizard Knight tells the story of Sir Able of the High Heart, a knight who is really a young boy pulled from our own world to Mythgardr, one of seven connected worlds that are mirrored on a combination of Norse mythology, medieval history and Christian theology. One of those other worlds, Aelfrice, is home to Disiri, an Aelf queen who helps Able towards manhood — even though he is mentally still a young boy inside a grown man's body — and tells him to f... Read More

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms: One of my all-time faves

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms directed by Eugène Lourié

As I have mentioned elsewhere, it is a keynote of all the films that appear on my personal Top 100 Films list that they are capable of bearing up under repeated viewings with undiminished enjoyment. And indeed, of those 100 films, many of them have been seen by yours truly dozens of times, if not more, with just as much pleasure as when I saw each picture for the very first time. But of all those films, the one that I have probably sat down with the most is The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

A bit of personal history here: When I was a kid, growing up in 1960s NYC, we only had perhaps a half dozen television stations to choose from. There were the big three, of course — CBS, NBC and ABC — in addition to two or three local stations, one of which was WOR, channel 9. As memory serves, WOR only had a single program that it showed repeatedly, all week long; a little something called Read More

Rock Manning Goes for Broke: A strange and original tale by a brilliant writer

Rock Manning Goes for Broke by Charlie Jane Anders

The thing I loved the most about Rock Manning Goes for Broke, the 2018 novella by Charlie Jane Anders, is the narrative voce of Rock himself. Here are the opening lines:

Earliest I remember, Daddy threw me off the roof of our split-level house. “Boy’s gotta learn to fall sometime,” he told my mom just before he slung my pants seat and let me go.

That’s the flavor of this brief, fast-paced, action-packed dystopian, heroic dark comedy and kinda-love story.

Dad is not a psycho, or maybe he is, but he is also a stuntman, teaching his sons the trade. Rock gets older and enters school, where his class-clown antics bring him to the attention of the school bully, and also to the new girl Sally, who wants to make films. W... Read More

King Kong: Long live the king!

King Kong directed by Meriam C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack

Of all the titles that appear on my personal Top 10 Films list, this is the one that I have a feeling every single person who is reading this has already seen. For we baby boomers, this is a film that has always been with us. We've seen it over and over on television, and many of us, including myself, have seen it over and over on the big screen. It has been an acknowledged classic ever since it first premiered in NYC on March 2, 1933, and has been wowing successive generations of film viewers ever since. Not surprisingly, the film was a smash hit when initially released, garnering almost $10 million at the box office (huge money, back when) after being put together for around $670,000. It is a film that is so very ubiquitous that at this point it might be taken for granted. But this viewer has never taken this movie for granted, and indeed, to this day, and after more viewings than it is possible... Read More

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle: A compelling murder mystery wrapped in an enigma

 

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Debut author Stuart Turton’s The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (2018), originally published earlier this year in Great Britain as The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, is an intricately plotted murder mystery, set in an isolated early 20th century English mansion, with a highly imaginative speculative element that is only gradually revealed, as our main character tries to figure out who he really is, and how to solve the mystery of Evelyn Hardcastle’s pending death … or has her death already occurred?

The plot and setting are worthy of Agatha Christie: Lord and Lady Hardcastle have invited a number of guests to their British country mansion, Blackheath House, for a weekend party to celebrate the return of their daughter, Evelyn, from Paris. (The notable guests and household staff are conv... Read More

Summers at Castle Auburn: A lovely YA romance

Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn

Summers at Castle Auburn (2001) was my first exposure to Sharon Shinn's fantasies, and it was pretty much insta-love for me (I like to think that Shinn returns my affections in a distant and anonymous fan-appreciation kind of way). It instantly set me off on a search for more of her books.

Corie is the teenaged illegitimate daughter of a nobleman who died before the story begins, but the royal family is still keeping close tabs on her. Most of the time she lives with her grandmother in a remote village, learning medicinal herbs and a bit of witchery from her. But her summers are spent with the royal family in Castle Auburn.

We follow Corie over the next several years as she hangs out with her half-sister Elisandra; Bryan, the stunningly good-looking ― and kn... Read More

SAGA Volume 2: A comic book that lives up to its name

SAGA Volume Two, Issues 7-12 by Brian K. Vaughan (author) & Fiona Staples (illustrator)

I’m so late to the party that the weekend is over and everyone is back to work on Monday. I like to write SF reviews to introduce new books to people who might not have read them yet, but SAGA is already so popular and well known that the only advantage to discovering this series so late is that I can read the first 5 volumes straight through without having to wait!

The story moves so propulsively you have to force yourself to slow down. The characters are so likeable that even the contract killers and military robot royalty are sympathetic. And the dialogue written by Brian K. Vaughan is so infectiously fun, snarky and charming that I kept laughing out loud. It’s a space opera, yes, and a story of star-crossed lovers caught in the middle of a protracted interstellar war. And they have a brand-new baby. Their arguments... Read More

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster: Best MG book I’ve read in some time

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster (2018), by Jonathan Auxier, is a wonderfully, bittersweetly poignant MG/YA book that I highly recommend for its warmth and gentle eloquence.

Set in Victorian England, Auxier’s Dickensian story focuses on young chimneysweep Nan, who grew up mentored in the field by The Sweep. When he disappears one night though, all Nan has left from him are his hat, her skills, and on odd lump of charcoal. Nan spends the next few years in indentured employment to the cruel, abusive Wilkie Crudd, but a near-fatal flue fire changes her life forever as she finds herself free of Crudd and a mentor herself, albeit to a child-like golem named Charlie rather than another chimneysweep.

There’s so much to love about Sweep, beginning with the main character. Nan is sharp, lively, wise beyond h... Read More

Sourdough: Celebrates the appreciation of excellent food

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

I really loved Robin Sloan’s Sourdough (2017), but not everyone will. You probably will if you’re a foodie (I am), an introvert (I am), and a bit geeky (I am). If you love sourdough bread (I do) and magical realism (I do), you’ve just got to read Sourdough. And you must try the audio version. It’s amazing.

Lois is new to San Francisco. She moved from Michigan, where she grew up, and she’s starting a job as a programmer of robotic arms at a tech company where everyone works so hard that they basically have no other life. Most of them just eat a nutritive slurry rather than bothering to plan, shop, and prepare meals.

Most nights Lois orders her dinner from a food delivery service that she saw an advertisement for. Th... Read More

The Blue Sword: Strong female lead, interesting moral conundrum

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

This, my friends, is how young adult fantasy is done. In The Blue Sword, Robin McKinley has created a world out of whole cloth and polished it until it shines. Or in this case, until it is a dusty desert full of horse riding warriors, a dwindling magic, demon barbarians invading from the north, and civilized white men invading from across the ocean. McKinley is a master of prose, and this book has stood the test of time for almost 25 years now.

The Blue Sword is the story of Harry Crewe — don’t you dare call her by her given name of Angharad — who, upon the death of her parents, is sent to live at a fort on the Homeland frontier with her brother who is in the colonial army. Unlike most of the colonists, Harry is fascinated by the desert, and when Corlath, the leader of the Free Hillfolk of Damar, comes to the Homeland fort to negotiate for a... Read More

Dogsbody: Another gem from the mind of Diana Wynne Jones

Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones

My usual response to reading any book by Diana Wynne Jones is: "how does she come up with this stuff?" This is swiftly followed by bewilderment (especially in the wake of Harry Potter) that nobody has ever adapted any of her work, despite the fact her stories would make for excellent on-screen entertainment.

Dogsbody (1975) is no exception. It begins by introducing the immortal Dog Star Sirius, who is in serious trouble with his peers. Accused of murder and theft, Sirius is sentenced to life on Earth as a mortal dog, where he is sentenced to die after his considerably shortened lifespan. He has only one chance at redemption: he can return to his celestial home only if he tracks down the mysterious stolen Zoi and returns it to the heavens.

... Read More

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day: A brief, but tender, ghost story

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire’s novella Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day (2017) is a sensitive tale of love, loss, and regret — the kind that haunts people, turns them into ghosts, makes them flee thousands of miles from their homes, makes them linger somewhere long after it’s time for them to leave.

In 1972, Jenna Pace’s older sister Patty committed suicide in New York City, far away from her family home in Mill Hollow, Kentucky. Jenna, wracked with grief, ran out into a freak thunderstorm and tumbled into a ravine, where she died. Because her life ended before it was supposed to, though, Jenna remains in the living world as a ghost, able to make her body corporeal or insubstantial at will. She moved to NYC shortly after her death and (flash-forward to 2015) found work at a suic... Read More

Northwest Smith: Some of the sturdiest pillars of Golden Age science fiction

Northwest Smith by C.L. Moore

The original readers of the legendary pulp magazine Weird Tales could have had little idea of what a landmark release the November ’33 issue would turn out to be. Kicking off the magazine that month, and preceding stories by such already established veterans as Edmond Hamilton, E. Hoffman Price, Clark Ashton Smith and Mary Elizabeth Counselman, was a story with the unusual title “Shambleau,” written by an author who nobody had ever heard of … for the simple reason that “Shambleau” was the very first sale by the 22-year-old writer C.L. Moore. The story turned out to be some... Read More

Foundryside: Come for the action and characters, stay for the thematic depth

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

Bill: Robert Jackson Bennett hit the trifecta, as far as I was concerned, with his DIVINE CITIES trilogy. I placed each book pretty much immediately on my respective best-of-the-year lists as I finished them, and then, once the trilogy was completed, put the whole thing on my best-of-the-decade list. So it would be more than a little unfair to expect his newest novel, Foundryside (2018), to match that experience. But like a younger sibling following after a genius older sister or brother, Foundryside finds its own kind of greatness, a no-less pleasing but more “moderate” greatness if you’ll allow the seeming paradox. Even, I’d say, a stealthy greatness, the kind that sneaks up on you while you thought you were just reading s... Read More

Circe: A winningly feminist retelling/expansion

Circe by Madeline Miller

“When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Thus begins Circe’s self-told tale, and the yet-to-be-invented descriptor she references here is “witch,” though it could just as easily, and perhaps more significantly for this story, be “independent woman,” since both concepts, it turns out, are equally confounding to Titan, Olympian, and mortal alike, much to the reader’s satisfaction.

Beyond that bedeviling of the uber-powerful, there’s a lot that satisfies (and more) here: Madeline Miller’s lovely prose, how she stays faithful to the myths but fills the spaces between them with a rich originality, the manner in which the tale creates tension despite the fact we know how many of its parts end, the many times we dip into and out of storytelling as we hear of Theseus and the Minotaur or Achilles and Hector, and the way the familiar is constantly being told slan... Read More

Summer in Orcus: A Narnia-type tale spiced with wry humor and insight

Summer in Orcus by T. Kingfisher

Summer is a young girl whose overly protective, clingy mother tries to protect her from every possible danger, although Summer is allowed to read books about magic and shapechanging and such. (“Summer’s mother believed that books were safe things that kept you inside, which only shows how little she knew about it, because books are one of the least safe things in the world.”) But Summer’s mother is no match for Baba Yaga! One spring day Summer is found by Baba Yaga ― actually, she’s found by Baba Yaga’s chicken-footed house, which manages to convinces Baba Yaga that Summer is the girl they want for some unstated purpose.

When Baba Yaga offers Summer her heart’s desire, Summer really isn’t sure what to answer, though shapeshifting or being able to talk to animals do come to her mind. Instead, though, Baba Yaga looks deep into Summer’s heart and mind, then hands over a talking wea... Read More