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Terms of Enlistment: Easily digestible, rather average, military SF

Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos

Andrew Grayson wants out. Growing up in the wretched urban tenements of the North American Commonwealth in the year 2108 has left him bitter, jaded and willing to risk his life to avoid becoming another barely surviving victim of a failed social system. His mother and father are no longer together and Andrew knows that if he wants a future the only real way out is to join the Armed Forces of the North American Commonwealth.

In the world of 2108 war is constant. Mankind has gone to space and is colonizing other planets, but we can’t seem to stop fighting each other whether on this world or another. For Grayson, joining the military is risky because conflict is real and there are no guarantees of where he will be assigned if he even makes it through training.

Basic Training in the future is much like it was in the past, except they don’t care if you quit because you are disposab... Read More

Darwin’s Radio: Cool idea that doesn’t connect

Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear

Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear follows several characters — a molecular biologist, an archaeologist, and a public policy maker — through a cataclysmic pandemic sweeping through the human race. This disease is an HERV, a human endogenous retrovirus, which is a piece of dormant genetic code that, when activated, only affects sexually-active women. It causes them to get pregnant with a horribly-mutated fetus that self-aborts, only to follow up with another pregnancy of a new species of human, homo novus.

I found Bear's description of homo novus a fascinating suggestion of ways in which our species might evolve. He envisions humans evolving new physical structures. These structures —glands, concentrations of photo-sensitive skin cells, etc. —create new ways of communicating and relating between members of the species. This description was so much more interesting than your stereotypi... Read More

Fated: I can’t recommend this one, but I want to try something else by Browne

Fated by S.G. Browne

“You like Christopher Moore,” the bookstore clerk said, pushing a book into my hand. “You’ll like this.” I do like Christopher Moore, and I think S.G. Browne does too, but Fated fell short of the wry Moore-like comedies it tries to emulate.

Fate, who uses the name Fabio, is a world-weary immortal Personification. When the book opens, he is bored with his work and disdainful of the human race. Fabio is only one of many — dozens, scores, I don’t know, maybe hundreds — of anthropomorphized states. He has a rival, Destiny, who gets all the glamor assignments. He used to be best friends with Death, who goes by Dennis (wouldn’t you?), but they had a fight and now they don’t speak. The Personifications are ruled by God. He used to be called Jehovah, but now he goes by Jerry. Je... Read More

The Pirate’s Coin: Slight improvement

The Pirate’s Coin by Marianne Malone

The Pirate’s Coin, the third book in Marianne Malone’s SIXTY-EIGHT ROOMS fantasy adventure series for children, is a slight improvement over the first two novels, The Sixty-Eight Rooms and Stealing Magic, which three of us here at FanLit agreed did not meet the potential of Malone’s excellent premise. Readers who haven’t dropped out yet, presumably because they have enjoyed the series so far, should also be pleased with this installment.

Ruthie and Jack just can’t stay away from the Thorne Rooms in the Art Institute of Chicago. This time the plot involves two separate threads that (again) take place in the worlds of two of the Thorne Rooms. One involves a classmate that Ruthie and Jack discover is a descendant of... Read More

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

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