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Expiration Day: Give it a pass

Expiration Day by William Campbell Powell

Expiration Day, by William Campbell Powell, was a book I almost didn’t bother finishing and only ended up doing so because of that added sense of obligation of having received it for free to review. Had I picked it up on my own, I almost certainly would have dropped it somewhere about halfway in. As usual, in these cases, this will be a relatively short review so as not to belabor the issue.

In 2049, humanity has all but died out and is racing to find a cure to this plague of infertility that has been around for some while now. Meanwhile, to give the race hope and meet the parenting instinct, “teknoids” (sophisticated androids) can be rented by couples to be brought up as their own child, with regularly scheduled “revisions” to mirror the physical development due to aging. Everyone knows this happens, but it’s considered ill manners to speak of it too bluntly, so nobody is ev... Read More

Six Heirs: Give it a pass

Six Heirs by Pierre Grimbert

Six Heirs, the first book in the SECRET OF JI series by Pierre Grimbert, was originally published some years ago in the author’s native French. Sadly, it does not import well, though some of the flaws may be due to translation issues rather than authorial ones.

The novel opens with a captivating story of how several generations ago an enigmatic stranger (is there any other kind?) led a group of emissaries from most of the nations of the Known World to the island of Ji, where they simply vanished. When they eventually returned as mysteriously as they had disappeared, some had died, many were wounded, and none would speak of what they had been shown or where they had been. Over time, the survivors began to gather regularly every other year and share their secret with select “heirs” so that knowledge of the mysterious event wouldn’t disappear as the original participants died of... Read More

The Sagan Diary: Not convincing

The Sagan Diary by John Scalzi

The Sagan Diary was a prize and an experiment. As John Scalzi explains in the introduction, this novelette was written for Bill Schafer, editor of Subterranean Press, who won it in a charity auction. Schafer wanted a story set in Scalzi’s popular OLD MAN’S WAR universe. Scalzi wanted to challenge himself, so he decided to attempt a woman’s internal monologue. Fans will immediately realize from the title of the book that the woman is Captain Jane Sagan, a cyborg who features prominently in OLD MAN’S WAR. Scalzi has said that he originally wrote this story in free verse (which I did not know before I read it). The Sagan Diary is available for free in audio format on Scalzi’s blog where it’s read by Read More

Live Free or Die: I wouldn’t pay for this

Live Free or Die by John Ringo

Humans were alarmed when the first aliens that arrived to introduce themselves to Earth set up a hypergate that immediately connected Earth with all the outside universe. We were no longer alone. At least the Glatun were friendly aliens.

Tyler Vernon, a smart hard-working guy who chops wood for a living, decides to take this opportunity to improve his fortune. He finds a product that our new alien friends love and begins a business empire. Soon he’s the richest man on Earth, and that means he’s got a lot of influence on how things get done. When another alien race, the Horvath, come through the gate, declare themselves Earth’s “protectors” and start demanding tribute, Tyler is the only human who seems ready to take them on.

Live Free or Die, the first in John Ringo’s TROY RISING series, starts strong. Tyler is, at first, a likeable entrepreneur whose clever busines... Read More

Triton: The Trouble with Triton; its main character, for starters

Triton by Samuel R. Delany

Samuel R. Delaney wrote Triton in 1974, but it was published in 1976, after his best-seller Dhalgren. Delany’s subtitle for this book was “An Amorphous Heterotopia,” and he stated at the time that the book was inspired by (or a response to) Ursula LeGuin’s “ambiguous utopia” The Dispossessed. Oh, how I wish that I had re-read that book instead of picking up this one.

Delany is a brilliant observer of humanity. I like what I have read of his memoirs and essays. I enjoyed The Fall of the Towers and Read More

Hunter’s Prayer: What’s the point?

Hunter’s Prayer by Lilith Saintcrow

“I am not a nice person” — Jill Kismet

Jill Kismet is a Hunter — she keeps her city safe by tracking and destroying the creatures of the Nightside — those things that come out of hell to prey on humans. The cops call on Jill when there’s a crime that seems to involve paranormal beings. Jill takes care of it while the cops cover it up. Jill’s a badass — she can beat up anybody — but she also has some special powers of sorcery and healing which she got by making a bargain with a hellspawn named Perry. Perry keeps Jill alive and in return she gives him two hours of her “time” each month.

In Night Shift, the first book in Lilith Saintcrow’s JILL KISMET series (reviewed by Robert), we met all the main characters, but you don’t really need to read Night Shift t... Read More

Planet of the Damned: Cheesy, pulpy, boring

Planet of the Damned by Harry Harrison

Brion Brandd has just become the champion of his planet by defeating all the other contestants in “The Twenties.” Many men train all their lives for a chance to be the winner and Brion is ready to savor his victory. But not so fast! When a former winner challenges Brion to do something truly meaningful and heroic with his life, Brion sets off to save the planet Dis from a war that will surely destroy the entire planet. Dis has a hostile environment that nearly kills Brion before he even gets to meet the natives. Then he needs to figure out how the planet and the species that have evolved on it work together so he can solve their political problems.

Since this is a story written by Harry Harrison, there must also be a hot chick for Brion to save and fall in love with. My eyebrows rose when I found out that the girl in Planet of the Damned is Dr. Lea, an accomplished biologist. That was s... Read More

Technomancer: Doesn’t fulfill my criteria for good entertainment

Technomancer by B.V. Larson

When Quentin Draith wakes up in a bed in a private hospital he has no idea how he got there or even who he is. He does realize, though, that he’s being drugged and, therefore, somebody must be trying to control him. After he manages to escape, he learns that he lives in Las Vegas and blogs about supernatural events. And there’s a lot of weird stuff going on in Las Vegas these days.

Quentin soon discovers that the world contains an assortment of powerful magical objects and that he’s a rogue member of a community of people who are trying to collect them. These objects have something to do with the mysterious Grey Men who keep popping out of rips in space and gruesomely killing Quentin’s new friends. When Quentin meets a pretty young bride whose husband has just disappeared into a rip, he feels protective and wants to save her from the Grey Men. Eventually he develops a plan that he hopes will destroy the bad... Read More

Messenger: Whaaaa?

Messenger by Lois Lowry

The book flap describes Messenger by Lois Lowry thusly: “For the past six years, Matty has lived in Village and flourished under the guidance of Seer, a blind man, known for his special sight. Village was a place that welcomed newcomers, but something sinister has seeped into Village and the people have voted to close it to outsiders. Matty has been invaluable as a messenger. Now he must make one last journey through the treacherous forest with his only weapon, a power he unexpectedly discovers within himself.” Do you want to know why I used the book flap description for the first time ever? Because I don’t trust myself not to get all snarktastic just describing the book.

Warning: Review is going to be snarktastic.

Okay, I freely admit I am getting more and more irritated by this series as I go further along. You want to know why? Because it ma... Read More

The Awakening: Lacks anything special

Magelord: The Awakening by Thomas K. Martin

It is interesting to read older fantasy novels and see how the genre has grown and evolved. Thomas K. Martin published Magelord: The Awakening in 1997, and it feels dated.

Bjorn Rolfsson is a young hedge-wizard. In a time when people who can use magic are hunted down and burned alive, he and his father are part of a hidden, secretive group, called a Circle, who teach each other to use magic. I felt like I was reading about early Christians under the Roman Empire, where being exposed was a sure death. There are many different groups who have been persecuted like this throughout history, but that was what jumped into my mind.

Gavin is the son of the King of Ryykvid and a decent enough guy. He is trying to do what is right, but he has a problem: one of the Magelords, the former rulers of the world who destroyed each other and almost ... Read More

City of Lost Souls: Very disappointing

City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series started out as a trilogy, and should have stayed there. This fifth book in the series has devolved into nothing more but one incident of teenage groping and/or angst after another.

City of Lost Souls is very disappointing.

 

[Editor's note: Terry, a perfectionist, didn't want to post this short opinion as a review, but we thought you'd want to know, so we posted it anyway.]   Read More

The Mammoth Hunters: Prehistoric Mary Sue

The Mammoth Hunters by Jean M. Auel

The Mammoth Hunters, the third book in Jean M. Auel's EARTH'S CHILDREN series, followed relatively quickly on the heels of The Valley of Horses. After this one, the gap between books increases. It would take Auel 26 years to get the last three published. I guess it was a good thing that Auel took more time for the fourth book. The Plains of Passage is not up to the standard of The Clan of the Cave Bear, but it certainly beats this third volume. Still, there is something very readable about these books. She never managed to get close to the level of the first book, but millions have devoured the other five anyway. Unfortunately, that still doesn't make The Mammoth Hunters a good book.

Ayla and Jondalar meet a group of Mamutoi, Mammoth Hunters o... Read More

Dark Moon: Pure genre fantasy

Dark Moon

In writing reviews of fantasy, everybody makes mention of those derivative books of sword and sorcery which lack imagination and either borrow exclusively from previous works (think Terry Goodkind) or possess so many archetypes that the whole book becomes cliché (think the DRAGONLANCE series). Everybody knows these cardboard Conans and Gandalfs wielding battleaxes, wands, and uttering the worst one-liners published today. But these comments about garbage fantasy are always directed to the “others” — someone else — never the work under review. Nobody wants to step on any toes.

David Gemmell’s Dark Moon is pure genre fantasy. This is one of the books everyone is indirectly referring to when they mention derivative fantasy. Reptilian uni-mind creatures attack in... Read More

Agatha Awakens: Kat loves it. Bill doesn’t.

GIRL GENIUS: Agatha Awakens by Phil & Kaja Foglio

Adventure! Romance! MAD SCIENCE!

I don’t read many graphic novels — though I’ve tried many of them, they’re just not my thing. In fact, I only read one graphic novel and that’s GIRL GENIUS by Phil & Kaja Foglio. I love this comic and I must not be the only one —it’s won the Hugo Award three times (and lots of other awards, too). Therefore, I was thrilled to see that Tor is releasing hardback omnibus versions of GIRL GENIUS because this comic is a work of art that deserves to be beautifully bound and displayed on coffee tables everywhere.

GIRL GENIUS is a “gaslamp fantasy” set in a Victorian-style world which produces “Sparks” — admired, but also somewhat mad, geniuses who are able to create bizarre machines and biological constructs — some which make life easier for... Read More

Dracula: The Undead: Just plain bad

Dracula: The Undead by Ian Holt & Dacre Stoker

Have you ever read a book that is so bad that it loops back around to being good? Well, Dracula the Un-Dead (2009) isn’t one of those books. It’s just plain bad. But it nearly provides one of those “so bad it’s good” reading experiences, creating a sense of bile fascination in the reader over the fact that someone could clearly enjoy a source material enough to write a sequel, but apparently hate it so much that they would write it… well, like this.

According to the afterword, the subject of a sequel was raised between screenwriter Ian Holt and Dacre Stoker, Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew as an attempt to “re-establish creative control over Bram’s novel and characters by writing a sequel that bore the Stoker name.” Given the copyright issues that have plagued the Stoker family ever since th... Read More

The Battle of Corrin: Continues the downward trend

The Battle of Corrin by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson

One steps into the LEGENDS OF DUNE series not expecting the achievement of Dune, an unfairly high standard, but a good read with maybe some flashes of Dune's complexity of character, plot, and philosophy. The first book of this trilogy, The Butlerian Jihad, failed in the latter two areas but the plot was a good enough read to overcome those flaws.

The second book, The Machine Crusade, was a step backward, with the same weak characterization, but this time not balanced by a strongly told story.

The Battle of Corrin, unfortunately, continues the downward trend. As in the other books, characterization is almost uniformly shallow, which is tough to do since we’ve followed some of these characters over the course... Read More

Living with Ghosts: Mixed reviews

Living with Ghosts by Kari Sperring

It took me a long time to get through Living with Ghosts by Kari Sperring. As a fantasy novel, it meets all the requirements in terms of the setting, the use of magic and the plot. I think that it took so long because I had a hard time getting into any of the characters, and for me that is essential to my enjoyment of a book.

Gracielis is a gigolo. He is well-mannered, good-looking and seemingly omnisexual in his willingness and ability to become attractive to anyone. Gracielis’ history is actually quite interesting. He is a failed novice of a group of assassin-sorcerer-priests who spend years training to become the ultimate blend of lover and killer. The process is only loosely depicted, but it’s something to ponder, and it’s interesting to imagine what could be created out of a blend of complete conviction, extreme skill and magic.

... Read More

Isle of Night: Read The Hunger Games instead

Isle of Night by Veronica Wolff

Isle of Night is the first in a new young adult paranormal series, The Watchers. Author Veronica Wolff attempts to combine several hot fiction trends into Isle of Night: vampires, boarding school, catty mean girls, and a scenario in which teens are forced to fight to the death.

Annelise Drew, who goes by her last name, is looking forward to escaping her abusive home life and going to college. When she gets to school, though, an issue has arisen with her high school credits and she’s unable to enroll. Drew is unsure what to do next. In swoops hunky Ronan, who convinces her to leave the country with him. He’s recruiting for a very different kind of school. Located on a remote island north of Scotland, it trains young women to become Watchers, which might be described as secretaries-slash-bodyguards for vampires.

Th... Read More

Haunted Heart: A biography of Stephen King

Haunted Heart by Lisa Rogak

It must be difficult to write a biography of someone who is still living, who has not donated his papers to a library where one can get access to them, who is still active in his career, and who has a healthy sense of privacy. Even when the subject agrees to an interview, a biographer has to be aware that the subject is telling what he wants to tell and leaving out that which he does not care to discuss. If the interviewee is sufficiently charming, or is completely forthright on a particular subject that casts him in a poor light, the interviewer can easily lose sight of questions not asked. And when the subject has himself written a book or two about his past, you have to wonder just what you can come up with that’s new and interesting.

Lisa Rogak’s Haunted Heart, a biography of Stephen King, is interesting and entertaining, but does not p... Read More

The Forever King: Poor characterization, clichéd writing

The Forever King by Molly Cochran & Warren Murphy

The Forever King, by Molly Cochran and Warren Murphy, is almost two books blended together. One is an unusual take on the Grail legend, with some familiar characters like Merlin and Nimue. The other is a contemporary fantasy thriller about the reincarnation of King Arthur and a drunken ex-FBI agent who must help him. The Grail retelling has the most chance of being successful but ultimately both stories fail because of poor characterization and clichéd writing. The book, published in 1992, is the first of three in a series.

Hal Wozniak is a top-grade FBI agent who, in one case, fails to save a child’s life. He leaves the FBI and becomes a drunk. In the meantime, an enigmatic serial killer escapes from an asylum in England; and two crack addicts break into a vault in a Chicago bank (yes, that’s right, two crack add... Read More

Immortal: I never felt anything but déjà vu

Immortal by Gillian Shields

Evie Johnson is a new student at Wyldcliffe Abbey School for Young Ladies, which resides in (you’ll never guess) a gothic mansion on the moors. Surprisingly, there are some severe headmistresses there (coiffed with scraped-back buns) and a clique of mean rich girls. They tease Evie for arriving on the train and make discourteous comments when the school mistress announces that Evie is their new “scholarship student.”

You won’t believe it, but Evie has red hair and a seemingly innocuous silver pendant which belonged to her mother (who was drowned), grandmother, and other maternal ancestors who have some connection to the area around Wyldcliffe Abbey. Needless to say, I was astonished when Evie started experiencing strange sensations and hallucinations when she arrived at school. These visions are connected to the tragic deaths of two young ladies, one of whom grew up in the Victorian age and wise... Read More

The Fifth Sorceress: Clutters rackspace

The Fifth Sorceress by Robert Newcomb

This ambitious debut novel is set in a realm in which two kingdoms are divided by an impassable sea. Over 300 years prior to the story's opening, a vicious war led to the exile of a coven of evil sorceresses whose lust for power would have led to the utter destruction of peaceful Eutracia had it not been for the intervention of the noble Directorate of Wizards. The book's startlingly blunt sexual politics, in which the heroes are all male and the villains female, is only one of its dubious qualities. Robert Newcomb has delivered a first novel that, while competently written, ends up little more than an amalgam of fourth-hand ideas borrowed from better books.

In The Fifth Sorceress we have, once again, a reluctant protagonist prophesied as the "Chosen One" who must face Overwhelming Evil in a battle to the finish with the guidance of his own personal G... Read More

Vellum: Empty, pretentious twaddle

Vellum by Hal Duncan

Forty pages into Vellum, I was dazzled. Hal Duncan's debut novel appeared to be every bit as phantasmagoric as the tidal wave of advance hype was claiming it was. A hundred pages in, my initial delight was morphing into skepticism. Yes, Duncan is a remarkably assured stylist, but is there any direction here? Is there ever going to emerge a cogent narrative to involve me beyond the author's obvious gift for lovely and visually evocative prose? By about 175 pages, I figured I had my answer.

I remember attending a critics' panel at a local convention several years ago, before I launched my site, listening to Bruce Sterling. I love Bruce to death, especially when he prattles on in that showoffy way of his, demonstrating how much more well-read and intellectually promiscuous he is than you. He was in fine form this day, casually dropping the names of obscure easte... Read More

A Young Man Without Magic: I feel like I have been punished

A Young Man Without Magic by Lawrence Watt-Evans

A Young Man Without Magic seems to be set in 17th century Europe with characters who could have fallen right out of an Alexandre Dumas novel. So, if you liked The Count of Monte Cristo and think a novel like that with magic added would be great, then A Young Man Without Magic would seem to be a good choice. There is a problem, though… there is no Edmond in this book.

Anrel Murau is a young man without magical talent growing up in an imperial setting where sorcerers are the aristocracy and all others are simply cattle to be cared for. While there are rules under which they have to operate, sorcerers are lightly constrained as long as they can justify how what they are doing is for the greater good. The unmagical masses seem ripe for revolt.

I don’t mind stories that spend... Read More

Dragongirl: It’s well past time to put Pern to rest

Dragongirl by Todd McCaffrey

The steep fall in the quality of the PERN series can’t be laid solely at the feet of Anne McCaffrey’s son Todd McCaffrey, as Anne’s later books in the series themselves widely varied in quality, ranging from downright bad (a few) to mediocre/adequate (most) to not-great-but-pretty-good (a few). But at least one could kind of justify the existence of most of them, as they wrapped up characters we’d grown to love, or gave us the backstory of how the whole setup began, or kept us in the familiar and beloved setting but gave us new situations. But since Todd began co-writing the books with his mother, and later writing them on his own, it isn’t just the quality of the books that’s questionable but their very reason for being. The simple fact is we’ve seen these types of characters and these specific plots too many times and the books have suffered from a major lack of origi... Read More