We Love This!

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

Circe: A winningly feminist retelling/expansion

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Reposting to include Ray's new review.

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 ... Read More

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

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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 h... Read More

The Outsider: Fighting monsters, King’s characters remind us what it is to be human

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The Outsider by Stephen King

The Outsider (2018) by Stephen King is a big book with a big, layered story. With great effort I’m going to hold my review to one or two aspects of it. First things first; it’s horror, with its roots in King’s classic horror works but with a sensibility influenced by the modern world. It’s good. Horror readers will love it and be creeped out by it, but non-horror readers will find plenty that is thought-provoking (and they’ll be creeped out by it). Of course I’m recommending it.

Terry Maitland is a big man in the town of Flint City, Oklahoma. He is an English teacher at the high school, and he coaches both football and baseball. Nearly everyone knows him because he’s coached nearly every boy in town in some sport. He has a loving ... Read More

When the Birds Fly South: Profoundly moving, stands the test of time

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Reposting to include Katie's new review.

When the Birds Fly South by Stanton A. Coblentz

Never let it be said that you can’t learn anything from Facebook! It was on the Vintage Paperback and Pulp Forum there, for example, that this reader recently discovered his newest favorite author. Several of my very knowledgeable fellow members on that page happened to be discussing the merits of a writer who I had previously never even heard of before; a man with the curious name Stanton A. Coblentz. Very much intrigued, I later did a little nosing about, and managed to lay my hands on Coblentz’ highly regarded When the Birds Fly South. And I am so glad that I did. This novel, as the author revealed later, was his very favorite of all his many sci-fi/fantasy works. It was, appropriately enough, originally released in 1... Read More

The Anubis Gates: A very generous book

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

Tim Powers' fourth novel, 1983's The Anubis Gates, is a book that I had been meaning to read for years. Chosen for inclusion in both David Pringle's Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels and Jones & Newman's Horror: 100 Best Books, as well as the recipient of the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award in 1984, the book came with plenty of good word of mout... Read More

Akata Warrior: Scores goal after goal as it enhances the series world

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Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor

From its stunning cover to the triumphant final word (“Gooooooooal!”), Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Warrior (2017) continues to deliver on the promise of Book One, Akata Witch. Sunny, an American-Nigerian girl currently living in Nigeria with her family, has embraced her heritage as a Leopard Person, one of a magical lineage, but things to do not get easier for her or for her magical friends, the oha coven. Ekwensu, the evil force that Sunny faced and vanquished in the first book, is back, and she’s brought friends. In the mundane, everyday world, Sunny’s older brother Chukwu, the favored child, gets into serious trouble when he goes away to university, and Sunny’s attempt to help him puts her squarely at odds with the teachings of the Leopard Peop... Read More

Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr: Weird, elegiac, lovely

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Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr by John Crowley

Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr (2017) is a brilliant novel. It is lovely, eerie, and heartachingly elegiac. It is also deeply weird.

I want the reader to understand me perfectly here. When I say "weird," I do not mean it's experimental, or iconoclastic, or that you'll feel awkward explaining to your friends why you wanted to read a book about a magic bird. All of those things might be true (to greater or lesser degrees), but they feel trivial when applied to Ka. This book is weird, in both the new definitions and also the older sense that implies something like "uncanny." The experience of reading this novel is like dreaming. There's the sense of progression, of ordinary storylines going about their business, but there's also a sense of unreality, of places where logic simply ... 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

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

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

Kings of the Wyld: Getting the band back together

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Reposting to include Tim's new review.

Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

When Clay Cooper returns home from work to find his old friend, Gabriel, waiting on him, he knows something is wrong. He learns that Gabe's headstrong daughter has run off to be a mercenary and ended up in a city besieged by an overwhelming horde of monsters. Gabe is now desperate to get their "band," Saga, back together and go save her. Saga used to be the most famous mercenary band ever. Tales of Slowhand Clay, Golden Gabe, Arcandius Moog, Matrick Skulldrummer, and Ganelon are still told in the pubs throughout the kingdom to this day.

However, that was many years ago, and they're no longer the young men they used to be. Clay, in particular, has happily retired to a quiet life in the country with his wife and daughter. So, with great reluctance Clay turns his best friend down. But later, wh... Read More

Demo: A stunning collection that I have read and taught for years

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Demo by Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan

Demo is a collection of eighteen coming-of-age short stories about young people. It’s a giant collection of close to five hundred pages. Usually, but not always, one of the characters has a “super power,” but none of the stories is a superhero story. None of these characters tries to be “super” in any way — characters do not run — or fly — around saving others from villains, nor are there any global threats that need attending. In most instances, these stories deal with everyday issues, even if those issues seem a little more dramatic because of a power. In keeping with the everyday nature of the book, the art by Becky Cloonan is in black-and-white. The lack of colors aids in preventing this book from looking like a superhero comic. In looks and in feel, the stories of Demo are very much “indie... Read More

Shadowhouse Fall: Still magical, still powerful, still wonderful

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Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older

Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper was one of the best books of 2015 — not “best YA books” but best books of all categories. It featured an engaging, authentic female hero, an original magical system, mundane issues as well as magical ones, and a distinctive voice and sensibility. 2017’s sequel, Shadowhouse Fall, shows no second-book slump in this series.

Sierra Santiago is mastering her skill as a shadowshaper, an ability that melds spirit contact with art, and adjusting to her new role as the Lucera, but things are not calm or quiet in her neighborhood. A powerful rival group called the Sorrows still pursues her. Early in the ... Read More

The Coincidence Makers: Weaving an elaborate web

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The Coincidence Makers by Yoav Blum

Behind the scenes of our lives, pulling the strings for the benefit of humanity, are the people assigned as “coincidence makers,” arranging the events that need to happen in people's lives, both on a personal and larger scale. It may be making a particular love connection by arranging that two people meet at the right time, or taking steps to help an accountant find his true work in being a poet, or ensuring that an assassin is pointed in the right path to later do society a larger good. Coincidence makers work for a hidden organization that supervises and directs their generally benevolent efforts, along with those of imaginary friends, dream weavers, luck distributors and other useful employees, endowing them with supernatural powers, while insisting on compliance with a plethora of bureaucratic rules and restrictions.

Guy, Emily, and Eric are all... Read More

All the Light We Cannot See: Science, magic and morality

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See (2014) opens in the basement of a hotel in the port city of Saint-Malo in occupied France, 1944. The city is being bombed. Eighteen-year-old Nazi soldier Werner Pfennig is trapped below tonnes of rubble, his chances of survival increasingly slim, whilst across town, a blind French girl Marie-Laure is hiding in her attic. The pair is bound by a curiosity in natural science, years of surreptitious radio broadcasts, and a diamond that may bestow immortality upon its holder. Neither of them knows it yet. What follows is the tale of a boy who joins the Nazi regime and a girl who tries to evade it, and the series of events that will set their paths hurtling towards one another.

After these opening scenes, the story rewinds to 1934: Werner Pfennig and his sister Jutta are orphans in the German mini... Read More

The Grip of It: Compelling and scary

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The Grip of It by Jac Jemc

TerryJac Jemc’s The Grip of It (2017) made the long list for the Bram Stoker Award for 2017, and for good reason: it’s delightfully frightening, and refuses to be set down before the reader has finished it. We both loved it.

Here’s the premise: James and Julie have decided to leave the city for a small town a good distance away, looking for a clean break from financial problems (though Julie has determined she is not going to harp on how James gambled all of his nest egg away; she’s just glad the joint account is still intact). They’ve decided to buy an older home with lots of closets and dark wood, with a forest starting right where the backyard ends. There’s a weird sound in the house that the real estate agent assures t... Read More

City of Miracles: A perfect ending!

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett

Bill: I think it’s going to be impossible to review City of Miracles (2017) without reference to events from Robert Jackson Bennett’s first two books in the series (City of Stairs, City of Blades). or without discussing the major precipitating event (no real pangs of guilt here; that event is also detailed in the official bookseller summary), so consider this your fair warning: There be spoilers ahead!

Bennett picks up the story years after the c... Read More

City of Blades: Inspiring and heartbreaking

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

Marion: City of Blades is the second book in Robert Jackson Bennett’s THE DIVINE CITIES series, which tells several sides of the story of a major international cultural conflict. Saypur, a civilization that has been oppressed by the Continent for centuries, rose up and subdued its oppressors by killing their gods. In the wake of the Saypuri revolution and its conquest of the Continent, all of the Continental Divinities have vanished, and magic no longer works… usually.

City of Blades, Bennett’s follow-up to City of Stairs Read More

City of Stairs: A glorious, mind-bending mash-up

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs is a glorious, mind-bending mash-up; part second-world fantasy, part political thriller and part murder mystery. Shara Thivani and her “secretary” Sigrud are my two new favorite action heroes.

Robert Jackson Bennett once again, has taken a conventional sub-genre and made it original, creating an experience that reads like an actual sociological thriller set in another, magical world.

Shara Thivani is a junior ambassador from the Saypuri islands – at least, that is her cover. She comes to Bulikov, the City of Stairs, on the Continent, to investigate the murder of Saypuri citizen and her friend, Professor Pangyui, who was found beaten to death in his office in the Bulikov University.

Relations... Read More

Central Station: A wealth of ideas, a breathtaking vision

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Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Central Station is a thoughtful, poignant, human take on a possible future. For the most part Central Station occurs at the titular port on planet earth. This space resides in what we know today as Tel Aviv, but in the distant future it has gone through many names and many people. Everything seems to begin in earnest when Boris Chong arrives in Central Station after spending a great deal of time away — some of which on Mars. Central Station, the place, is a half-thought meeting of a variety of worlds. Central Station the book is more thoughtful than I think I know how to express, but I’ll give it a try.

Central Station occurs in the very spot where humans expanded from our first planet... Read More

The Girl in the Tower: Gorgeous, bleak, wonderful and terrifying

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Reposting to include Bill's new review.

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

The Girl in the Tower (2017), a medieval Russian fantasy, continues the story of Vasilisa (Vasya), a young woman whose story began in Katherine Arden’s debut novel The Bear and the Nightingale, one of my favorite fantasies from early 2017. That makes it a hard act to follow, but there’s no sophomore slump here. The Girl in the Tower is an even stronger novel, more sure-footed and compelling in its telling, and with more complex and nuanced characterization.

At th... Read More

Our favorite books of 2017 (Giveaway!)

Here are our favorite books published in 2017. 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 2017. What did we miss? One commenter chooses a book from our stacks.

ADULT SFF



MIDDLE GRADE / YOUNG ADULT SFF



ANTHOLOGIES / COLLECTIONS



NON-FICTION Read More

Spoonbenders: Heartwarming and extraordinary

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Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory

Spoonbenders (2017) by Daryl Gregory, is multi-generational family saga. It’s a coming-of-age story. It’s a psychic adventure story and a weird conspiracy tale for lovers of shadowy CIA projects like MKULTRA. It’s a gangster story. There’s a heist. There is a long con, and a madcap comedy along the lines of classic Marx Brothers routines. There are a couple of romances, a direct-distribution scheme, a medallion, a cow and a puppy. If we’re talking genre, I don’t know what Spoonbenders is. I know I loved it. I know it was fun and made me laugh, I know it was scary at times and I know I closed the book feeling happy and sad. And I know it’s a five-star b... Read More

A Storm of Swords: Might be the best in the series

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

When George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords (2000) begins, the War of the Five Kings has just ended, and it looks like the Lannisters have won the realm. They control King’s Landing, Westeros’ capital city, as well as the fifteen-year-old King Joffrey. Stannis Baratheon is in retreat, and their remaining foes, the Starks and the Greyjoys, have turned on each other rather than allying against a common enemy. Basically, the bad guys have won, but A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE isn’t over.

Martin highlights that there are still perfectly legitimate threats to the realm, especially the wildlings, the Others, and the giants that are invading from beyond the Wall. Jon Snow is charged with infiltrating the wildling army, an excus... Read More

The Handmaid’s Tale: Chilling and tense

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

In Our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.

Margaret Atwood was once, via a review of her work, once taken a bit publicly to task by Ursula K. LeGuin for not wanting her books (specifically The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake Read More