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Creatures of Light and Darkness: Not Zelazny’s best

Creatures of Light and Darkness by Roger Zelazny

In the early part of his career, and in an indirect sense throughout it, Roger Zelazny combed Earth’s cultures, religions, and legends for story material. His brilliant Lord of Light and This Immortal riffing off Hindu/Buddhist and Greek mythology respectively, he established himself as a writer who combined the classic themes of myth and legend with more modern, imaginative tropes of science fiction and fantasy. His 1969 Creatures of Light and Darkness is no exception.

Egyptian myth and cosmology is the source material for Creatures of Light and Darkness, an epic tale of warring gods where space and time have little meaning — or all the meaning, if the story is viewed as a whole. Stakeholders in universal power, Osiris, Set, Anubis, Isis, and a variety of other deities from E... Read More

The Long Mars: Finally getting somewhere

The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter 

The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter still features egregious prose, but it finally begins to tie in some of the unresolved plotlines from earlier books in the LONG EARTH series. We now understand why Roberta (from The Long War) seemed so different; we find out where Willis Linsay, Sally Linsay's dad and the inventor of the Stepper, has been hiding; and we see more of the Long Earth exploration as the Chinese and the Americans team up to go "where no man has gone before."

This book also provides the most stunning portrayals of different Earths so far — chilling and inspiring answers to the "What if?" question that haunts our life-lucky planet. Landscapes full of masses of bacteria, of monument-building crabs, of plant life that approaches sentience, all of... Read More

The Gates of Sleep: Lush and engaging, but it loses steam

The Gates of Sleep by Mercedes Lackey 

The Gates of Sleep by Mercedes Lackey, part of her ELEMENTAL MASTERS series, is a fun, harmless read based loosely on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale.

Growing up, I had always been drawn to Mercedes Lackey books, mostly because of the lush cover art, usually drawn by Jody Lee. But then, unfailingly, I’d read the blurb and decide not to read it; they usually sounded too involved, too conspicuously “high fantasy,” or otherwise cheesy and formulaic. (I love high fantasy, but I must have been a hipster when I was a kid because I couldn’t stand it if the book seemed like it was trying too hard.)

So I was pleasantly surprised by how engaging I found this book. Lee’s artwork is the perfect companion to Lackey’s prose, which is rich and descriptive. The world she creates fo... Read More

The Search for WondLa: Sweet heroine, dull plot

The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi

Eva Nine has been living in an underground bunker for all of her twelve years of life. She’s being raised by a slightly humanoid robot named MUTHR (it’s an anagram), her omnipod (a personal hand-held device) and her computerized home called Sanctuary. Eva Nine is the only human she’s ever seen. What’s above ground? Why is she not allowed out? Are there any other humans on Earth? If not, where are they? Soon some of Eva’s questions will be answered because somebody is hunting her and to escape, she must leave Sanctuary by herself.

When Eva Nine gets outside, she finds that everything is unrecognizable and nothing is as she’s been taught. The flora and fauna are unknown to her omnipod which is usually able to identify anything. She encounters strange enemies and makes friends with creatures that seem impossible. Could it be that she’s not on Earth? Where is she? Why is somebody hunting her?... Read More

Planet of Death: Action-packed, light on theme

Planet of Death by Robert Silverberg

Planet of Death by Robert Silverberg is an enjoyable read, but it was the first story/novel I've read of his that was this light on theme, which for me is central to good literature. I know that exploring complex themes is also of primary concern for Silverberg because he emphasizes theme in almost all of the forty-plus stories he included in his short story collections covering the period of time before his writing Planet of Death in 1960. In fact, of all the early stories I've read by him, only a few were written as pure action with no thematic attempt on his part.

Silverberg discusses in several places in the introductions to his short stories in In the Beginning and Read More

The Long Earth: An ambitious let-down

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter 

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter is a really interesting book without being a particularly good one.

The concept for The Long Earth itself arises from a short story Pratchett wrote before he became Pratchett with a capital P. Essentially, there are other versions of Earth strung out like a strand of pearls in parallel universes — and the ability to travel to these Earths has begun to spread through the human race with the advent of new technology called the "stepper." The technology itself is pointedly pointless; it is literally a potato connected, with some wires and electrical components, to a switch. Using this, people can step "East" or "West" of what comes to be known as "Datum Earth" — our Earth. The most obvious difference between the worl... Read More

Mandala by Stuart Moore and Bruce Zick

Mandala by Stuart Moore (script) and Bruce Zick (art)

Mandala is the story of Michael Patrick Murphy who has the potential to be a mythic hero, Morningstar, savior of all mankind, but often he is just Michael, a confused man, or even worse, he turns into his lower, demonic self. Borrowing a page from Michael Moorcock, author Stuart Moore has Morningstar drift from one reality to another, trying in each new plane of existence to fight the serpents and evil gods who control all humans in a post-apocalyptic world. He fights alongside the rest of "The Thirteen," an organization made up of men and women similar to Michael Morningstar: They all have a human side and must learn to "wake up" their higher selves to unite and defeat serpents who are led b... Read More

The Ghosts of Watt O’Hugh: A Western fantasy

The Ghosts of Watt O'Hugh by Steven S. Drachman

I confess to having mixed feelings when I was done with The Ghosts of Watt O’Hugh, by Steven S. Drachman, but the book’s relative brevity, strong finish, and the fact that its sequel, Watt O’Hugh Underground, was an improvement, means in the end I feel OK in recommending it, with a few caveats.

The cover will tell you right away we’re in Western world, with its neckerchiefed, gun-toting, cowboy-boot-wearing hero with the square jaw dodging a bullet, all of it drawn in that classic comic book Western style a la Kid Colt: Outlaw or Western Bandit. That’s Watt himself, and he’s clear Western material — with his self-told “yarn,” his “shootist” skill and cattle drive experience. The hints that this is more than a simple Western though come early in the way that Watt address his 21st century readers in ways that mak... Read More

Magic’s Price: Bittersweet finale

Magic’s Price by Mercedes Lackey

In Magic’s Price, the third book in Mercedes Lackey’s THE LAST HERALD MAGE trilogy, we discover how this trilogy got its name. It’s been nine years since the previous story ended and the Herald-Mages are being knocked off one by one. Valdemar is in great danger. Vanyel is “the last Herald-Mage” and there’s a target on his back. If he dies, how will Valdemar survive a magical attack by enemies? Can Vanyel and Yfandes, his Companion horse, find and stop Master Dark, the evil magician, before Valdemar is doomed?

Obviously there is much at stake for Vanyel and his beloved country in Magic’s Price. Vanyel is the most powerful person in the realm and at first he doesn’t even know who his enemy is. All he knows is that he and the people close to him are targets, so Vanyel moves his family to court in Haven where, he hopes, he can keep them safe.

In H... Read More

The Master of the World: One of Jules Verne’s last novels

The Master of the World by Jules Verne

First published in French in 1904 and in English in 1911, The Master of the World is another of Jules Verne’s adventure novels with an SFF twist. It’s a sequel to Robur the Conqueror, though it’s not necessary to have read that book first (I didn’t). The story is set in 1903 and, as so many of Verne’s novels do, features fantastical machines and gadgetry. It should be of particular interest to those who love steampunk and to Verne’s fans who want to read one of the author’s last novels.

Verne’s hero is John Strock, a brave and clever man who investigates mysteries for the government. Currently there are a few strange occurrences going on in the United States. In the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina there is a mountain that nearby residents claim has been heard to rumble and seen to smoke. It acts like a volcano, but our investigator knows that a volcano i... Read More

Working God’s Mischief: Nearly gave up

Working God’s Mischief by Glen Cook

Working God’s Mischief is Glen Cook’s fourth installment in his THE INSTRUMENTALITIES OF THE NIGHTseries. I had a mostly positive response to the opening novel, though it had its issues, but my pleasure waned somewhat through books two and three, leaving me to say at the end of my review of Surrender to the Will of Night that “the ratio between frustration and reward” was nearing the danger zone. Unfortunately, Working God’s Mischief did little to reverse that trend and in fact, for the first time in the series, I seriously considered giving it up. I persevered, but I’m not all that sure I’m happy I did so.

My irritation with the novel began off the bat. Perhaps it’s my readerly dotage, but I’m growing less and less patient with long-running series whose new installment don’t come with at least a little bit of a recap. For god’s sake, weekly ... Read More

Written in Red: Dullest protagonist ever

Written in Red by Anne Bishop

Meg Corbyn has escaped from the man who’s been using her prophetic abilities for his own profit. Meg has never been in the outside world — she’s been institutionalized since she was a child — and she has no idea how to take care of herself. The only place where she might successfully hide from her owner is in the Courtyard of the Others, a race of dangerous shapeshifters who are much more animal than human. Meg applies for the Others’ job opening as a liaison to the humans. She has no skills, but she’s determined to prove herself worthy.

Though he has very little experience with humans, Meg’s new boss Simon Wolfgard (a wolf who transforms into a human, even though he hates being in that body) realizes there’s something different about Meg. She seems so innocent and naïve. When he and the rest of the Others discover that Meg is being hunted, they reverse their previous policy of not interfering in... Read More

Lockstep: Great premise, disappointing execution

Lockstep by Karl Schroeder

I’m starting to feel like a broken record (Google it kids) here the past month or so, having had the same general reaction to a long run of books now — “good premise, flawed execution.” The latest perpetrator is Lockstep, a new YA space opera by Karl Schroeder, who has come up with a wonderfully engaging premise and setting, but has failed to create that same sense of engagement with regard to the characters and plot.

Way back in time in the Lockstep universe, Earth was controlled by the super-rich. In order to escape that highly stratified world, Toby McGonigal’s family buys Sedna (a real recently discovered trans-Neptunian planetoid smaller than Pluto’s moon) and sets up an independent colony. While there, Toby, the eldest child, is sent to claim one of Sedna’s moon’s and accidentally goes into suspended animation, only to wake 14,000 years later. Soon after he... Read More

Edge: On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee

[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.]

I had high hopes for Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea. A literary author turning his hand to a post-apocalyptic tale that would focus less it seems on zombies and cannibals etc., but take the opportunity to make some searing points about class and globalization and other current issues. But as has been the case with a distressingly large number of my reads lately, while I ended up appreciating the starting premise and also what Lee was trying to do, he lost me in the execution.

On Such a Full Sea is set in the not-too-far future U.S., ... Read More

Futurdaze: An Anthology of YA Science Fiction

Futurdaze: An Anthology of YA Science Fiction edited by Hannah Strom-Martin and Erin Underwood

In their introduction to Futurdaze: An Anthology of YA Science Fiction, editors Hannah Strom-Martin and Erin Underwood offer up their motivation for the collection:
We hope to inject the short-fiction market . . . with an extra serving of undisguised wonder at the possibilities the future may hold [and] give the next generation of speculative readers and writers a taste . . . of the infinite possibilities inherent in both the science fiction genre and the short story form [and to] represent a wider range of viewpoints than is typically seen in American popular culture.
That’s a lot to aim at and more power to them for putting this collection of twenty-one stories and a dozen poems together with that goal in mind. I’d like to say they fully succeed, but as with most anthologies (... Read More

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