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Crescent Moon: Did Not Finish

Crescent Moon by Lori Handeland

Crescent Moon (2006) is a werewolf romance, fourth in Lori Handeland’s NIGHTCREATURE series. Diana is a cryptozoologist who is desperate to discover an unknown species, to fulfill a promise she made to her late husband. Her quest brings her to the Big Easy in search of the loup-garou werewolves that are reputed to lurk in the swamps. It also brings her to the attention of the brusque and secretive, yet sexy, Adam Ruelle.

I was interested in Crescent Moon mainly because it was set in New Orleans, a city that I love. Unfortunately, it never grabbed me and I ended up setting it aside. My problems with the novel can be boiled down to three main issues: a lack of sense of place, a distracting error about wolf behavior, and too little cohesiveness between scenes.

I’ve been spoiled by a lot of ... Read More

Steel Beach: Did Not Finish

Steel Beach by John Varley

I hate giving up on books I plan to review but, unfortunately, this is the second one in a month that I’ve had to abandon.

Steel Beach (1992) is the second in John Varley’s stand-alone novels set in his EIGHT WORLDS universe in which vastly superior aliens have kicked humans off of planet Earth so they can commune with the dolphins and whales (who are more intelligent, in their eyes, than humans). I liked the first EIGHT WORLDS book, The Ophiuchi Hotline, because, though it had its share of problems — weak characterization, confusing plot, uneven p... Read More

The Dragon Token: Did Not Finish

The Dragon Token by Melanie Rawn

I tried and failed to finish The Dragon Token, the second book in Melanie Rawn’s DRAGON PRINCE trilogy (really the fifth book in her DRAGON STAR trilogy). These novels are currently being released in very nice audio formats by Tantor Audio who has generously sent them to me for reviews. I feel bad for quitting, because these are such excellent audio productions narrated by Christa Lewis, but I am just so bored with them and each book is quite long.

Readers who enjoy or feel nostalgic for a medieval-style fantasy epic with a huge cast of white nobles who try to gain power, keep power, or scheme with others to wrest power from someone else, will certainly get more enjoyment out of these books than I did.

While Rawn attempts to flip th... Read More

Tide of Stone: Had issues with the voice

Tide of Stone by Kaaron Warren

As usual with DNFs (Did Not Finish), this will be a quite brief review as I have too much respect for the achievement of finishing a novel to belabor its bad points. Or, in this case, bad point really, for what caused me to give up on Kaaron Warren’s Tide of Stone, twice actually, was voice.

In Tempuston, Australia, the town has taken to punishing its worst criminals in two ways. The first is relatively mundane — they imprison them in the Time Ball Tower set across a small stretch of water. The second way is the fantastical aspect of the novel. The prisoners are “preserved,” given a long-ago concocted cocktail that gives them eternal life but turns them into withered, desiccated bodies that can’t move themselves and talk so slowly many can’t understand them. In short, not really ... Read More

Deathstalker: War: I’m giving up on DEATHSTALKER

Deathstalker: War by Simon R. Green

This review may contain spoilers for the first two DEATHSTALKER books, Deathstalker and Deathstalker: Rebellion.

I’m going to have to give up on DEATHSTALKER, which I feel bad about since Tantor Audio sent me the first four books. The first one was okay but they’ve gone downhill since then and are, most egregiously, much too similar to Simon R. Green’s NIGHTSIDE series.

In Deathstalker: War (1997) the rebellion continues. Our heroes are still working to unseat the empress by fomenting rebellion on multiple planet... Read More

Drop by Drop: A boring small-town soap opera

Drop by Drop by Morgan Llywelyn

I’m going to make this short. There was nothing — absolutely nothing — that I liked about Drop by Drop (2018), the first book in Morgan Llywelyn’s new STEP BY STEP trilogy.

The story is about a small town where everybody seems to know everybody else. Suddenly one day, the plastic gradually starts to melt. Everything that is made of plastic eventually fails (they call it “The Change”) and the society has to learn to live without plastic. This means reverting to more primitive technologies since cars, computers, the internet, and so many other things all rely on plastic parts. As The Change is happening, we follow personal developments (marriages, divorces, deaths, etc.) of the town’s citizens.

Why did I dislike Drop by Drop Read More

Redworld: Year One: Too many issues with plot, character, and setting

Redworld: Year One by A. L. Collins, illustrated by Tomislav Tikulin

I really wanted to like A.L. Collins’ MG sci-fi book Redworld (2018). An inventive and independent 13-year-old girl (Belle Song) in the year 2335 arriving on a terraformed Mars with her family and a “Home Helper” intelligent robot and having to adapt to a new world, a new (and unexpected) life farming, new neighbors (including several alien ones), and a host of dangers such as water raiders and feral animal hybrids? It sounded like nothing so much as a modern-day Heinlein juvenile, say Farmer in the Sky or (more obviously) Red Planet, two books I loved as a kid. ... Read More

Steal the Stars: Lacks cohesion and internal logic

Steal the Stars by Nat Cassidy based on a podcast by Mac Rogers

Steal the Stars is a 2017 podcast (created by Mac Rogers) and subsequent novelization (written by Nat Cassidy) which centres around forbidden love between coworkers. In a world where the United States is controlled by a vague and sinister corporation, an alien has crash landed off the Pacific coast, and scientists are running out of funding to unlock the secrets of an extraterrestrial; the central plot may be the least interesting aspect. Frustratingly, we don’t get much else — the world lacks depth and the plot wears thin. In the end, the potential for an interesting multi-media experience was sullied by an unimaginative and thin story.

At some point in a military-industrial... Read More

Fisher of Bones: Half-baked prophetess for half-mutinous followers

Fisher of Bones by Sarah Gailey

Sarah Gailey’s novella Fisher of Bones (2017) is a bewildering revision of the Talmud/Old Testament Exodus story with the “Moses” role cast as a prophetess dubbed Fisher (formerly Ducky).

Fisher assumes the prophetess mantle only on her father’s deathbed when the patriarch prophet lays his hands upon her in a would-be ordination and declares her an outcast, “forever banished from [her] people.” And in the next breath commands her to lead the same. I never could get over this contradiction. This kind of launching and halting, lurching and jolting is characteristic of the entire story’s progression and it is not a device that works.

The story’s principle tension involves threats to Fisher’s authority as the prophetess to a mysterious pantheon of gods. The mut... Read More

The Suffering Tree: Witchcraft in the United States

The Suffering Tree by Elle Cosimano

When Tori Burns’ family is contacted shortly after her father’s death about a house and some land that was left to them in Chaptico, Maryland, they are suddenly moving into a century home. So begins the uncovering of the mysterious circumstances that lead to Tori’s family owning a small parcel of land on the historic Slaughter farm. The move kicks off many unexplainable happenings that seem to all come back to a witch’s curse from 300 years ago. Elle Cosimano strives to connect the present of the Slaughter land with a darker past, with little success overall.

The Suffering Tree (2017) is one part historical fantasy, one part adolescent romance, and two parts mystery. Tori is a teen navigating a new community, the grief of losing her father, and her personal demons. Often when Tori gets overwhelmed with what’s going on around her she self-harms... Read More

Forever Peace: Wildly implausible and poorly written

Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman

For the life of me, I can’t understand why Forever Peace won the Hugo, Nebula, John W. Campbell Memorial Awards for Best science fiction novel in 1998. Certainly Joe Haldeman’s earlier 1975 The Forever War is a beloved science fiction classic that deals with the Vietnam War, time paradoxes, and the absurdity of endless conflict. First off, Forever Peace is not a direct sequel, and is hardly related other than sharing a military science fiction theme. Even that connection is tenuous, so I can only think the publisher intended to sell more copies by linking them. It creates unfair comparisons, as this book should be judged solely on its own merits (or lack of). I though this book was pretty bad, but the only way for me to explain why was to enter spoiler terr... Read More

Up the Line: Fornicating in ancient Byzantium — shameless time travel porn

Up the Line by Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg was clearly a big fan of sex back in the late 1960s, and I’m sure he wasn’t the only one. But in Up the Line, he absolutely revels in it. He doesn’t miss a chance for his (all male) characters to fornicate with women at every possible opportunity both in the future and the past, in dozens of exotic time periods in Byzantium, Constantinople, Rome, etc. The act may be as old as time, but that doesn’t stop Time Courier Judd Elliot from trying to bed his great-great-great grandmother Pulcharia with a lusty enthusiasm and complete disregard for all social taboos that have existed for millennia. Sure, it’s generally a serious no-no in society to screw your ancestors, but when she is as saucy a sex-kitten as Pulcharia, well who can blame Judd? At least that is the irrever... Read More

Unnatural Issue: Great premise executed poorly

Unnatural Issue by Mercedes Lackey

All of Mercedes Lackey’s ELEMENTAL MASTERS novels are stand-alone retellings of fairy tales from around the world. Unnatural Issue (2011) is Lackey’s adaption of Charles Perrault’s “Donkeyskin,” a more obscure French tale from 1695 about a king who wanted to marry his daughter. In Lackey’s version, this king is an Earth Mage named Richard Whitestone, a country squire who was devastated by his beautiful wife’s death 20 years ago. When his daughter Suzanne, who he’s never met, grows up to look just like his wife, Whitestone notices her and decides to use necromantic arts to have his wife’s spirit displace his daughter’s in Susanne’s body. Fortunately, Suzanne has some powers of her own because she’s been trained as an Earth Mage by Robin Goodfellow. When she figures out t... Read More

Finches of Mars: Flat, boring characters and narrative

Finches of Mars by Brian W. Aldiss

It was with mixed feelings that I picked up Finches of Mars by Brian W. Aldiss. On the one hand, I had fond memories of being introduced to his short stories via my father's book collection. And fond memories too of reading, much later, his HELLICONIA series and his history of science fiction. On the other hand, I'd read that Finches of Mars was to be his "last novel," and I've had some poor luck with those in the past. Unfortunately, that bad luck held true and though it pains me to write, given the circumstances, Finches of Mars was one of the worst reads I've had in a while. As usual in these cases, this will therefore be a relatively brief review.

The novel is set mostly on Mars, in a future where a consorti... 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

Prince of Chaos: It’s over!

Prince of Chaos by Roger Zelazny

Prince of Chaos is the final (hooray) novel in Roger Zelazny’s AMBER CHRONICLES. I really liked the first five AMBER books. These are often referred to as the Corwin Cycle because they detail events that happened to Corwin, one of the nine princes in the “real” world of Amber (our world is just a Shadow world that they visit). The remaining five books are called the Merlin Cycle because their protagonist is Merlin, son of Corwin. The last of these, Prince of Chaos, was published in 1991, 21 years after the first AMBER book, Nine Princes in Amber, and just a few years before Zelazny’s death at age 58 in 1995.

Merlin has just found out that he is third in line for the throne of the Courts of... Read More

On the Oceans of Eternity: A disappointing finale

On the Oceans of Eternity by S.M. Stirling

On the Oceans of Eternity is the final novel in S.M. Stirling’s NANTUCKET series. In the first novel, Island in the Sea of Time, which I really enjoyed, a strange electrical storm caused the entire island of Nantucket to be transported back in time to 1300 B.C. It was entertaining to watch the island’s citizens make this discovery and deal with the resulting personal, cultural, economic and political changes. Then, one of the citizens, William Walker, decided to use his modern knowledge and technology to attempt to establish himself as emperor in this “new” world. He left the island to search for people he could rule.

The second book, Against the Tide of Years, felt very much like a middle book. We watched the islanders trying to usher in an industrial revolution, but most of the plot fo... Read More

Hellhole: A major disappointment. Not recommended.

Hellhole by Kevin J. Anderson & Brian Herbert

After a failed rebellion against the corrupt regime of the Constellation (an interstellar empire that spans dozens of worlds) General Tiber Adolphus is exiled to the newly colonized and extremely hostile planet of Hallholme. Because of the harsh conditions of this world, it is quickly awarded a nickname: Hellhole. His rebellion may have failed, but Adolphus still commands the loyalty of much of the population. Despite attempts by the ruler of the Constellation, Diadem Michella Duchenet, to make sure his attempt to settle Hallholme fails, he survives the first years there. Now, more than a decade later, Adolphus is at the point where he once again has the support and resources to undertake action against the tyrant Duchenet. And this time he means to succeed.

Hellhole is without a doubt, one of the worst books I've read in the past few years. Read More

The Gripping Hand: Boring sequel

The Gripping Hand by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

The Gripping Hand (1993) is Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s sequel to their popular 1974 novel The Mote in God’s Eye, which you probably want to read first. This review will have a couple of spoilers for The Mote in God’s Eye.

Recall that by the year 3017 AD, humans had designed the Alderson Drive — an interstellar transporter which allowed them to jump out of our galaxy to colonize different star systems. Then they discovered the first alien species — the Moties — who were excellent engineers but did not know the science behind the Alderson Drive. The Moties must breed to survive and were quickly overpopulating their own star system. Because they represent a major threat to our species, the human space navy ha... Read More

The Flight of the Silvers: Did Not Finish

The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

Daniel Price’s The Flight of the Silvers is a 600-page story about a half-dozen people who are pulled from the end of the world into an alternate Earth, where they become the subjects of scientific scrutiny, partially for their origin stories and partially because each evinces a “weirdness” — some sort of power involving the manipulation of time. When their laboratory residence is attacked by a group who fear these “breachers” will cause the end of their own world, the “Silvers” take off on a cross-country trek seeking answers in a possible sanctuary, a refuge they heard of via the future self of one of them.

The premise is an interesting one and certainly beginning with the literal end of a world is a pretty wild opening. But then, to be honest, once the pace goes downhill a bit (it is understandably hard to maintain apocalyptic l... Read More

Yesterday’s Kin: Tries to do more than it actually does

Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

Yesterday’s Kin, by Hugo and Nebula award winning author Nancy Kress, is a first-contact story set in a not so distant dystopian future. We follow Marianne Jenner, a geneticist who is celebrating a recent career breakthrough — the discovery that all human beings are descended from a common female ancestor — when she is unexpectedly called to a meeting set up by the secretive aliens that have landed recently in New York Harbor. Not understanding why, of all people, the aliens have asked her to be part of the first visiting committee to speak with the aliens, she quickly discovers that there is a surprising link between the aliens and her recent discovery.

That link, however, is secondary to why the aliens have chosen to allow, for the very first time, people to visit their base. There is an incoming interstellar spore cloud that will infect and kill every human bei... Read More

The Sweet Far Thing: A messy ending

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray

The Sweet Far Thing is the final book in Libba Bray’s GEMMA DOYLE trilogy about four girls at a boarding school in Victorian England. Gemma has inherited a magic that allows her to cross over to the Realms, the fantasy world that’s the source of her magic. She and her friends Felicity, Pippa, and Ann have been trying to keep the magic safe from people who might use it to unleash horrors upon the real world, yet Gemma has promised to share the magic with the people who have helped her so far. In this book she must figure out how to do both of those things at the same time.

As The Sweet Far Thing begins, Gemma and Felicity are getting ready to finish school and enter genteel society where eventually they’ll be expected to take on the roles of wives and mothers. Ann will suffer a worse fate — she is to be the governess for a... Read More

Direct Descent: Frank Herbert’s worst novel

Direct Descent by Frank Herbert

Direct Descent (1980) is by a fair margin the weakest novel by Frank Herbert I've read.

In the far future the whole of Earth's interior has been taken up by a gigantic library. Ships travel the known universe to collect information about just about everything and bring it back to Earth to archive it and make it available to the entire galaxy. The first and foremost rule of this organization is always obey the government whomever that may be — a rule meant to underline the library’s strict neutrality. But what if the government sends its warships at you? How can you defend yourself armed with archives full of useless knowledge and a policy of strict obedience?

Direct Descent is expanded from the short story “The Pack Rat Planet,” which first appeared in Astounding in December 1954. It is one of Herbert's earliest scie... Read More

Steadfast: More like Stead-slow

Steadfast by Mercedes Lackey

Steadfast by Mercedes Lackey is another fairy-tale retelling from her ELEMENTAL MASTERS series. It recasts Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the Steadfast Tin Soldier.

Katie Langford is a circus acrobat on the run. She flees to Brighton and ends up as a dancer and magician’s assistant for a small theatre. Lionel Hawkins, the magician she works for, is an elemental magician; he and his good friend Jack, the one-legged doorman of the theater, soon see that Katie also has undiscovered magical abilities. They train her in these abilities while trying to help her escape the Big Bad that is coming for her —her angry, abusive husband, Dick, who happens to be the circus strongman.

I listened to Steadfast read by Carmela Corbett, and I liked this novel okay at the beginning. The set-up was fun; it was really interesting t... Read More

The House of the Four Winds: Shoddy plot and no romance

The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey & James Mallory

Do you ever read a book and wonder how it got published? Or read an established author and think, "Don’t they understand basic storytelling?"

The House of the Four Winds, by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, starts innocently enough. Princess Clarice of the Duchy of Swansgaarde must go out and seek her fortune because she has eleven sisters and a brother, and the Duchy cannot support twelve royal dowries. Clarice is a master sword fighter and intends to make her living as an instructor. First, however, she seeks adventure on a merchant ship, disguised as a man named Clarence. The ship is captained by an evil lout, Captain Sprunt, but Clarice/Clarence falls in love with one of the ship's officers, Dominick. After the crew mutinies against the wicked Sprunt, they set sail for an unknown destination whose coordinates are provided by a magi... Read More