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THE ASSASSIN SERIES: Three horror novellas by Tim Lebbon

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Dead Man’s Hand, Pieces of Hate, A Whisper of Southern Lights by Tim Lebbon

The three novellas Dead Man’s Hand, Pieces of Hate, and A Whisper of Southern Lights make up Tim Lebbon’s ASSASSIN series. They were originally published in 2004, 2005, and 2008 by Necessary Evil Press but were reprinted by Tor.com in 2016. Tor packaged the first two stories together under the name Pieces of Hate.

The ASSASSIN series tells the story of a man named Gabriel who has, for centuries, been hunting Temple, a demon who slaughtered Gabriel’s family. Gabriel can feel when he is close to Temple and uses this sense to follow ... Read More

The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent: Liberals will hate it

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The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent by Larry Correia

The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent is a fun, silly, sometimes clever, sometimes hilarious, sometimes stupid story with lots of geeky SFF in-jokes. Some readers will absolutely adore it while others will absolutely loathe it.

As the story begins, one of the Earths in the multiverse is being overrun by Purple People Eaters who are (of course) eating people. Fortunately, this particular Earth has a policy with Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent. He’ll take care of it quickly and easily because if there’s one thing that Tom Stranger is serious about, it’s excellent customer service. That’s why he’s really annoyed that his new intern is a sissy Millennial crybaby who maj... Read More

The Curse of Sleeping Beauty: A vaguely diverting waste of time

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The Curse of Sleeping Beauty directed by Pearry Teo

Is this a good movie? No. Is it a fairly entertaining way of filling in a rainy afternoon? Sure.

There are actually a lot of things about The Curse of Sleeping Beauty I enjoyed: it has a unique visual style that's a sort of fantasy/steampunk mash-up, and a story that's half-horror, half-fairy tale (with a dash of ghost story thrown in for good measure). The acting ain't bad, and though the twist is pretty obvious, I felt satisfied at having correctly guessed what it would be.

And look at that cover art on the DVD! Gorgeous.

Thomas is your standard beefcake artist haunted by strange dreams of a creepy house and a beautiful slumbering girl. Diagnosed with sleep paralysis, he's isolated and anti-social, with little understanding of what his dreams could mean.

Then he finds out he's the beneficiary of an ... Read More

Lost Stars: Lost interest

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Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Lost Stars (2015) is not in want of a good premise. The story takes place over the course of events in A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi. It chronicles the rise and fall of the Galactic Empire and the struggles of two star-crossed individuals as they try to find their place within the changing political environment of the galaxy. The aristocratic Thane Kyrell and lowly labourer Ciena Ree both reside on the Outer Rim of planet Jelucan. Whilst their backgrounds couldn't be more different, the childhood friends both have one thing in common: they love to fly. As teenagers they are both accepted into the Imperial Academy and train as TIE fighter pilots and are both (unsurprisingly) star flyers. But thei... Read More

The Space Between the Stars: A tale of two halves

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The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

The Space Between the Stars, by Anne Corlett, started out promisingly enough. The story is set in a universe where humanity has colonized the stars, which sounds great, but unfortunately a devastating plague has rampaged through the planets, wiping out over 99% of our species. We learn this via our main character, Jamie, who is one of the very few to survive the virus, a literal handful on the planet Soltaire where she has been working on as a veterinarian. The novel follows her as she, joined by a few other survivors, attempts to get back to her childhood home on Earth.

Her reason for aiming for Earth is that she and her long-time lover Daniel used to always joke about meeting at Northumberland in case of a “zombie apocalypse” or other type of world-ending event, so she hopes beyond hope to find hi... Read More

Bios: A rare miss from RCW

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Bios: A Novel of Planetary Exploration by Robert Charles Wilson

Isis is not the M class planet we have been looking for, and upon landing the humans discover that it’s extraordinarily toxic to them. It’s not cheap traveling through space to distant planets, so the scientists will just have to do their best. This is the premise of Robert Charles Wilson’s Bios: A Novel of Planetary Exploration. The scientists initially try to solve this problem with nifty machines and suits, but eventually one of them tries to change people at a genetic level to make them fit the planet, rather than conquering it.

Zoe carries the modified “bloodware,” and she wants to make life work on the new planet. On Earth, she was sexually abused, and though her emotions were “smooth... Read More

A Second Chance: Are there no rules?

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A Second Chance by Jodi Taylor

I was disappointed in A Symphony of Echoes, the second book in Jodi Taylor’s CHRONICLES OF ST. MARY’S, but I had already purchased most of the rest of the series at Audible, so I read the third book, A Second Chance (2014). Unfortunately, it has all of the problems of the previous book and I don’t see things getting any better in the future.

In this volume we again get a series of loosely connected time-travel adventures: Max witnesses the fall of Troy, visits Isaac Newton, watches an African tribe cross the Gate of Grief, attends the... Read More

Never Let Me Go: A quiet exploration of the human condition

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Reposting to include Ray's new review.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

[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.]

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is about clones, but don’t get your hopes up. This is an unconventional clone story.

That’s right. There aren’t any mad scientists, nor are there any daring escapes. There isn’t even a sterile cloning facility run by a ruthless villain. So forget about a daring infiltration scene in which the sterile cloning facility is shut down from within.

Ther... Read More

Another Castle: Grimoire by Andrew Wheeler

 

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Another Castle: Grimoire Written by Andrew Wheeler, Illustrated by Paulina Ganucheau, Lettered by Jenny Vy Tran

Another Castle: Grimoire is a solid enough graphic story, better suited for younger readers than older ones due to its relatively simple story and characterization, though even aimed at that audience I would have liked to have seen a bit more depth and writing craft.

The story follows the adventures of Princess Misty, daughter to the king of Beldora and, like many a princess in the old stories, a reluctant prospective bride. Her impending marriage to Prince Pete is meant to unite two kingdoms and hopefully allow them to st... Read More

Infernal Parade: Only for the most passionate Barker fans

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Infernal Parade by Clive Barker

This is an unfortunately disappointing collection of microstories from Clive Barker, an author who helped define my reading experience in mid-1980’s junior and high school. The six very loosely connected stories that make up the 88 pages of Infernal Parade (2017) were originally provided as exclusive companions to collectables made by McFarlane Toys in 2004. I believe these are part of a larger macroverse of characters published in Barker’s 2014 novella, Tortured Souls: The Legend of Primordial.

Weaveworld and Books of Blood, the “Hellraiser" movies based on The Hellbound Heart, and Read More

The Time Museum by Matthew Loux

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The Time Museum, by Matthew Loux, is a graphic story with a nice premise, but neither the text nor the graphics fully exploited that premise, leaving me more than a little cold toward the final result.

The premise is relatively simple. Sometime in the far future, the Earth Time Museum was founded as “the most complete collection of the planet Earth’s geology, biology, art, culture, and history all under one big roof . . . To chronicle and preserve all the important things about this great planet.” That’s in the words of the museum’s founder and creator Lyndon Beckenbauer, “Uncle Lyndon” to the story’s main characte... Read More

The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time: A companion book from the series’ halfway point

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The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan & Teresa Patterson

The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time is a companion for readers of Robert Jordan’s THE WHEEL OF TIME novels. Although I enjoyed the ~14 (15, if New Spring is included or fewer if the final three novels are counted as one, the way Jordan intended) WOT novels, I don’t recommend this companion. Here’s why.

The book is written from the point of view of fictional historians from within Randland, but the device doesn’t work. It seems odd that many characters of little renown are mentioned in a history of Randland. Prominent characters from the se... Read More

The Whizbang Machine: An original MG mystery with execution issues

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The Whizbang Machine by Danielle A. Vann

Fifteen year old Elizabeth Yale has been living alone with her mother for eight years, since her father suffered an untimely death and her beloved grandfather Jack, unable to cope with the tragedy, left town to travel around the world. Elizabeth has missed Jack terribly, so she’s delighted when she gets a letter from Jack announcing that he’s coming home, and even more excited when her mother agrees to let her take a trip to Morocco with Jack in a few days. But unexpected troubles postpone their Casablanca adventure.

Jack has brought an unusual gift home for Elizabeth, an antique typewriter. Elizabeth has an uneasy feeling about the typewriter, especially when Jack insists that she touch the keys. At first nothing happens, but then the typewriter bursts into life with a Pop-Whiz-BANG!, shooting streams of brightly colored sp... Read More

Flashfall: Could have used more polishing

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Flashfall by Jenny Moyer

For those seeking non-stop action and little else, Flashfall, by Jenny Moyer, offers up a solid if somewhat predictable entry in the Strong Nervy Young Female Fights Oppression but not Love genre (trademark pending on SNYFFOL). But those who desire depth of character and of worldbuilding will probably want to look elsewhere for those elements.

A century after a solar apocalypse, sixteen-year-old Orion is a "caver" who, with her partner Dram, mines the all-important cirium, "an element born of the flash curtain [that] can be milked and refined into the only effective shields we have against the band of radioactive electromagnetic particles the sun sent crashing through our atmosphere." Like the other inhabitants of Outpost Five, she is also a Subpar, descendants of humans who survived the "flash" and are "adapted to the cu... Read More

Absolution Gap: Overlong, tedious and frustrating conclusion

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Absolution Gap by Alastair Reynolds

Absolution Gap (2003) is the third book in Alastair ReynoldsREVELATION SPACE series of large-canvas hard SF in which post-human factions battle each other and implacable machines bent on exterminating sentient life. The series has elements of Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix, Frank Herbert’s Dune, Arthur C. Clarke’s... Read More

Throne of Glass: Teenage escapism and wish-fulfilment

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

There are two main storylines in Throne of Glass. In one, a deadly assassin is unleashed from prison to travel to the capital and take part in a royal tournament for hired killers where the competitors often meet mysterious and gruesome ends (because, you know, assassin tournament). In the other, an extremely flaky girl tries on lots of expensive dresses, goes to parties, gushes over how pretty she looks today, and flirts with attractive men who like to pamper her with expensive presents. In a brighter universe, the novel would end with the assassin murdering the Popular Girl before she had the chance to complete her dude-harem. Alas, the assassin and the girl are of course the same person, and consequently neither plotline feels fully realized. It’s as if author Sarah ... Read More

Twilight Zone: Shadow and Substance by Mark Rahner, Tom Peyer, and John Layman

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Twilight Zone: Shadow and Substance by Mark Rahner, Tom Peyer, and John Layman Illustrated by Edu Menna, Randy Valiente, Rod Rodolfo, Jose Malaga, and Colton Worley.

Twilight Zone: Shadow and Substance is a large (250 pages) collection of, well, new Twilight Zone stories in graphic form. Or maybe “newish” might be better, as several have deliberate (I’m assuming) echoes of classic Twilight Zone tale, and most have, at least in my mind, a bit of a retro feel to them. I’m not sure this element however is as intentional, leaving many of the stories feeling more than a little predictable and stale. I suppose, for those who don’t read often in the genre o... Read More

White Mars: A response to KSR’s MARS trilogy

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White Mars by Brian W. Aldiss

While rereading Kim Stanley Robinson's MARS trilogy, books I consider to be among the very best in science fiction, I came across various references to White Mars; Or, The Mind Set Free: A 21st-Century Utopia (1999) by Brian W. Aldiss, written in collaboration with prominent physicists Roger Penrose. Robinson's utopian vision of a terraformed Red Planet is not something everybody would see as ideal or even morally acceptable. In the MARS trilogy Robinson pays a lot of attention to the discussion between what he calls the Reds, a faction opposed to terraforming the planet and convinced of its intrinsic value, and the Green faction who would exploit the plane... Read More

The Long Utopia: Intriguing mysteries, disappointing characters

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The Long Utopia: by Terry Pratchett & Steven Baxter

I read this book thinking it was, finally, the end of Terry Pratchett and Steven Baxter’s LONG EARTH series. Unfortunately, I have since read that one more is going to come out. In some ways, this is fine. The Long Utopia (2015) in no way provides a conclusion to many of the plotlines that Pratchett and Baxter have set in motion in previous installments and about which I am still, despite my better instincts, curious. In other ways, though, it is tedious, since my experience of these books cannot really be described as “enjoyment.”

In The Long Utopia, life on the Long Earth continues as it did when we left it. The Next, the evolved super-smart humans we met in The Long Mars, have found a home up in... Read More

Voodoo Island: For Uncle Boris completists only

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Voodoo Island directed by Reginald LeBorg

The 1957 Boris Karloff film Voodoo Island seems to have a widespread reputation as being one of the actor's all-time worst, so it was with a feeling of resignation and borderline cinematic masochism that I popped this DVD into the player the other night. Voodoo Island was Karloff's first horror picture in four years, his only release for 1957; he would rebound a bit the following year, with the releases of the fun shlockfest Frankenstein 1970 and the even better (British) film Grip of the Strangler. Filmed on the Hawaiian island of Kauai on the cheap, the picture turns out to be a modest little B film that, despite its many flaws, still retains a certain strange charm.

In it, Boris plays a character named Phillip Knight, who seems to be a professional debunker of popular myths. Knight, when we first encounter him, has ... Read More

3001: The Final Odyssey: Short, unnecessary series conclusion

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3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

The elements that make 2001: A Space Odyssey a classic — the pacing, dramatic tension, smartly efficient plot lines — are mostly missing from Arthur C. Clarke's Space Odyssey finale, 3001: The Final Odyssey. What it retains is Clarke's obvious exuberance for biological, technological and cultural evolution. Each book in the series represents an evolution in itself even, of Clarke's own perspective and thinking on the growth of humanity overtime, while providing a platform for his reflections on extraterrestrial life and evolution.

Beware of spoilers for the previous books below. I’m assuming anyone who... Read More

2061: Odyssey Three: Blandly going where he has gone twice before

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2061: Odyssey Three by Arthur C. Clarke

This is not a great book. It's really more of an extended novella or perhaps part one of Arthur C. Clarke's SPACE ODYSSEY finale, 3001. This story has none of the depth, nuance or scale of Clarke's classic original, 2001 nor its solid follow up 2010.

Beware of spoilers for the previous novels below. I’m assuming anyone who reads this review will likely have read the two preceding novels, or at least seen their movie companions.

In 2061, Clarke creates a pair of focal points 60 years after modern man first comes across The Monolith buried deeply bene... Read More

Arena: Sex, drugs and virtual gaming

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Arena by Holly Jennings

In the year 2054, virtual gaming has become a major sport with a huge following, and the RAGE tournaments are the ultimate competition, a virtual fight to the death between two five-person teams. The death matches take place in a simple virtual world: a field of tall wheatgrass and two stone towers, one tower assigned to each team. The rules are simple ― kill everyone (in a virtual kind of way) on the opposing team ― but real-world strength and skills translate directly to this virtual world, so rigorous physical training and well-developed martial arts skills in real life are critical.

Kali Ling is a member of Team Defiance, which is favored in the main tournament. But then things quickly start to go wrong for Kali and Defiance, following the rule of bad things coming in threes: First, a stunning loss in the final game of the pre-season to Team InvictUS sends ... Read More

Stardance: A dated double-award winner

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Stardance by Spider Robinson & Jeanne Robinson

Spider & Jeanne Robinson’s Stardance was first published in Analog in 1977 and won both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards for Best Novella. It was up against Vonda N. McIntyre’s Aztecs, John Varley’s In the Hall of the Martian Kings, Gregory Benford’s A Snark in the Night and Keith Laumer’s The Wonderful Secret. In 1978, Analog published a sequel called Read More

Transgalactic: Disappointing follow-up to its predecessor

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Transgalactic by James Gunn

Last year I gave a qualified thumbs-up to James Gunn’s Transcendental, which as I noted in the review, read like a mix of old guard sci-fi, The Canterbury Tales, Ship of Fools, and And Then There Were None. I absolutely loved (seriously, loved) the Chaucerian aspect, which were a series of stories embedded in the larger narrative that explained how various individuals — human and alien — ended up aboard the spaceship on a pilgrimage in search of the rumored Transcendental Machine (TM). The rest of the novel, however, I found far less successful. Now Gunn is back with the sequel, Transgalac... Read More