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The Fold: Fun for everyone

The Fold by Peter Clines

The Fold, by Peter Clines, is a science fiction thriller with a superhero aspect, a bit of Sherlock Holmes and a bit of H.P. Lovecraft thrown in. It’s got dry humor, plenty of pop-culture references and an engaging main character who can be surprisingly vulnerable. This is a perfect summer read; the ideal vacation book. It’s a book you’ll want to pass along to your friends when you’re done.

Leland “Mike” Erickson teaches high school English in a small town in New England. His life is tranquil and even uneventful, until his college friend Reggie, who works for the Department of Defense, comes for a visit. Reggie is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and his division oversees a project in San Diego called the Albuquerque Door. The scientists running the Door project insist that they can fold space, transporting matter across t... Read More

The Rebirths of Tao: Satisfying conclusion, but I hope there’ll be more

The Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu

Warning: This review contains spoilers for the previous books, The Lives of Tao and The Deaths of Tao. You can’t read The Rebirths of Tao as a stand-alone — you really need to read the previous books first. My review will not spoil The Rebirths of Tao.

The Rebirths of Tao is the third and final book in Wesley Chu’s TAO series about a race of aliens (called the Quasing) who crash-landed on Earth millennia ago and, in an effort to get their spaceships working so they could get back to their home planet, are responsible for the evolution of the human species. They have managed this by possessing the bodies of creatures they found on Earth and guiding their actio... Read More

Voyage of the Basilisk: H. Rider Haggard would clap his hands in glee

Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

What I enjoy most about Marie Brennan’s LADY TRENT MEMOIR series is the narrative voice. Isabella Camherst engages in adventures and feats of derring-do that would have H. Rider Haggard clapping his hands in glee, and they are related in the crisp, slightly sardonic tone of a well-educated and witty Victorian gentlewoman. Voyage of the Basilisk is no exception. The third book of series moves several plot points forward and has Isabella learning new things about dragons and herself.

Isabella’s dry and scientific tone make the dramatic descriptions somehow more plausible. Here she contrasts her personal experience with the “tall tales” common with sailors:
I am not a sa... Read More

SevenEves: You might love this book; I only loved the end

SevenEves by Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson doesn't shy away from big concepts, long timelines, or larger than life events. His most recent novel, SevenEves, begins with the moon blowing up. Readers never find out what blew up the moon, because all too quickly humanity discovers that the Earth will soon be bombarded by a thousand-year rain of meteorites — the remnants of the moon as they collide with each other in space, becoming smaller and smaller — which will turn Earth into an uninhabitable wasteland. Humankind has a 2-year deadline to preserve its cultural legacy and a breeding population. The solution is to make extended life-in-space a possibility. The first two thirds of the book follows a group of astronauts and scientists who are among those who will form the new colony orbiting Earth, waiting a few millennia for it to become habitable again. The last third shows us what has become of humanity after 5,00... Read More

Why Call Them Back From Heaven?: Cold storage

Why Call Them Back From Heaven? by Clifford D. Simak

Although the concept of cryogenically preserving the bodies of the living had been a trope of Golden Age science fiction from the 1930s and onward, it wasn’t until New Jersey-born Robert Ettinger released his hardheaded book on the subject, 1962’s The Prospect of Immortality, that the idea began to be taken seriously. Ettinger would go on to found the Cryonics Institute in Michigan around 15 years later; over 1,300 folks have subscribed to this facility as of 2015, agreeing to pay $30,000 to have themselves turned into human “corpsicles,” and 130 are currently “on ice” there. (And let’s not even discuss Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, whose head is currently in deep freeze at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona!) But getting back to Ettinger’s book: This volume apparently impressed sci-fi author Cliffor... Read More

The Son of Tarzan: A “runaway” success

The Son of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs

At the conclusion of the third Tarzan novel, 1914's The Beasts of Tarzan, the Ape Man's archenemy, Nikolas Rokoff, lies dead (and 3/4 eaten!) beneath the fangs of Tarzan's panther ally, Sheeta. But Rokoff's lieutenant, the equally dastardly Alexis Paulvitch, manages to flee into the African wilderness to escape. Needing to know more, this reader wasted little time diving into book #4, The Son of Tarzan. As it had been with the first two Tarzan sequels, Son initially appeared serially in magazine form, in this case as a six-parter in the pulp periodical All-Story Weekly, from December 1915 - January 1916. It would have to wait another 14 months before being released in hardcover book form.

The novel begins a full decade after the events of book #3, as we see Paulvitch, now a wreck of his former self after... Read More

Swords and Deviltry: The origin stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser

Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber

If you want to read “sword & sorcery” tales, why not go back to the source? Fritz Leiber’s FAFHRD AND THE GRAY MOUSER (LANKHMAR) series was first conceived in the 1930s and the first story “Two Sought Adventure” was published in 1939 in Unknown. For the next two decades he wrote additional stories but it was not until the 1960s that Leiber decided to organize and integrate the stories more closely by ordering them chronologically and added connecting materials and backstories. Therefore, Swords and Deviltry (1970) is the first of the series based on characters’ storyline, but was actually written much later. The seventh and final book, The Knight and Knave of Swords (1988), comes almost 50 years after the init... Read More

The Beasts of Tarzan: Raw lion steaks, anyone?

The Beasts of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs

To celebrate the centennial of Tarzan of the Apes in October 2012 — Edgar Rice Burroughs' first Tarzan novel was released in the October 1912 issue of All-Story Magazine — I  have been compulsively reading the first novels in what eventually became a series of some two dozen books. Book #2, The Return of Tarzan (1913), was a fairly direct sequel to the initial classic outing, while book #3, The Beasts of Tarzan, picks up the tale several years later. This novel originally appeared in serial form in the pages of All-Story Cavalier magazine in 1914 (the popular pulp had debuted in 1905 and would end its run in 1916), with a cover price of ... 10 cents. It made its first book appearance two years lat... Read More

Gate of Ivrel: A seamless blend of science fiction and fantasy

Gate of Ivrel by C.J. Cherryh

Gate of Ivrel is one of C.J. Cherryh’s entries into the science fantasy genre in which we follow the adventures of Vanye, the bastard son of a minor lord in a seemingly medieval world who is cast out for standing up to his oppressive brothers and inadvertently killing one and maiming the other. As he makes his way across the harsh landscape of his world populated by clans who would like nothing more than to end the life of a miserable outlaw he stumbles across a ‘miracle’ in the person of Morgaine: a figure of power and fear out of legend seemingly magically returned and to whom he becomes joined by bonds of duty and obligation. What the reader knows already is that Morgaine is actually an agent from a high-tech society sent to seek out and destroy the many ‘gates’ that were created by the al... Read More

Trial by Fire: A high-stakes game of war

Trial by Fire by Charles E. Gannon

There’s no sophomore slump with Trial by Fire, the second book in Charles E. Gannon’s TALES OF THE TERRAN REPUBLIC series. Trial by Fire is a white-knuckle adventure, with revelations that lay the groundwork for conflicts in future books.

In Fire with Fire, Caine Riordan and the team from Earth met exo-sapients (we used to call them space aliens) and attended a Convocation. Sabotage, both technical and political, caused the Convocation to fail. Along the way, several attempts were made on Caine’s life, mostly authored by a mysterious man who likes to eat olives.

Trial by Fire opens with another attempt on Caine’s life at the base orbiting Barnard’s Star. Caine survives, but as he and Trevor Corcoran are preparing to head back to Earth, ... Read More

Jupiter’s Legacy Volume 1, Issues 1-5

Jupiter’s Legacy Volume 1 by Mark Millar (author), Frank Quitely (artist), & Peter Doherty (colorer)

Jupiter’s Legacy Volume 1 collects the first five books in Image Comics storyline co-created by Mark Millar (writer) and Frank Quitely (art), and colored by Peter Doherty. The basic storyline and themes will be familiar to anyone who has read comics in the past decade or so, or has seen some of the more deconstructive movies such as Watchmen, Kick-Ass (written by Millar), Runaways, or even The Incredibles. But as is often the case with genre, it’s what you do with the usual tropes and themes that determines the quality of a work, and so far I’ve found Jupiter’s Legacy to be an entertaining take on the familiar,... Read More

The Return of Tarzan: Bungle in the jungle

The Return of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Perhaps the most well-known fictional creation of the 20th century, Tarzan celebrated his official centennial in October 2012. First appearing in the pulp publication All-Story Magazine as a complete novel in October 1912, Tarzan of the Apes proved so popular that its creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs, wasted little time in coming up with a sequel ... the first of an eventual two dozen! That sequel, perhaps inevitably titled The Return of Tarzan, was first seen in the pages of the short-lived pulp New Story Magazine (cover price: 15 cents); unlike its predecessor, it was published serially, in the June - December 1913 issues, and first saw book form in 1915. This is a tremendous continuation of the initial... Read More

Lords and Ladies: Pratchett does A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett

“If cats looked like frogs, we’d realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are. Style. That’s what people remember. They remember the glamour.”

In Lords and Ladies, Terry Pratchett’s fourteenth DISCWORLD novel, we get to see what happened to the land of Lancre after Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick stirred things up and changed its fate in Wyrd Sisters. You don’t need to read Wyrd Sisters first to enjoy Lord and Ladies, but some familiarity with the witchy ladies might add to the enjoyment. Please note that in writing this review, I can’t help but spoil one aspect of the ending of Wyrd Sisters.

So (and here is the spoiler for Wyrd Sisters), Magrat Garlick, the youngest... Read More

Fledgling: Love and relationships examined through vampirism

Fledgling by Octavia Butler

In some ways there are superficial resemblances between Fledgling and the last vampire book I read, Let the Right One In: both books have as their star apparently pre-pubescent vampires who have ‘complicated’ relationships with their human companions. In John Ajvide Lindqvist’s case it was a Renfield-like adult who was enamoured of the vampire-child for whom he obtained blood and the young boy who becomes a part of her life. In the case of Butler’s book the vampire in question, Shori, isn’t even only apparently pre-pubescent… according to vampire physiology she is in fact still a child, though that still translates to her being much older than her appearance would suggest (around 52 years old in fact). Despite this fact the relationships she has with the humans around her bear all of the appearances of a pedophilic relationship, at least from the outside.... Read More

Voyage of the Basilisk: A step back but still an enjoyable journey

Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Warning: Some inevitable spoilers for the previous novels, A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents, will follow.

Voyage of the Basilisk: A Memoir by Lady Trent is the third in Marie Brennan’s series A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS, and I found it falling somewhere between books one and two in terms of the reading experiences (better than the first, but not quite as good as the second). As always in this series, the narrative voice is the strongest aspect and managed to (mostly) outweigh the book’s weaknesses.

Readers will most likely note the resemblance between the title of this work and Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, wh... Read More

The Nexus: A very fine novel by a new sci-fi talent

The Nexus by Richard Fazio

On those occasions when I have read sci-fi, I've tended to stick to the familiar brand-name authors; tried-and-true old favorites such as Asimov, Bester, Bradbury, Clarke, Dick, Heinlein, Norton, Silverberg, Williamson and the like. But a recent peru... Read More

The Quillan Games: Another exciting PENDRAGON story

The Quillan Games by D.J. MacHale

The Quillan Games is the seventh novel in D.J. MacHale’s PENDRAGON series. Bobby is now on Quillan, one of the most unappealing places we’ve been to so far. Here a large corporation called BLOK (think Wal-Mart) has price-busted everyone else out of business until BLOK basically owns and operates the entire territory. Everyone is poor (BLOK pays low wages) and they are merely surviving. But there is a way to get money. Kids who are willing to risk it, or who are sold off by their families, can play the Quillan Games. They live in a mansion and are treated like royalty... as long as they keep winning. The games are often deadly and eventually, if they keep winning, they’re bound to end up in a fight to the death.

The rest of the populace bets on the games, hoping to supplement their tiny incomes. They watch the games from huge screens that have been e... Read More

The Rivers of Zadaa: MacHale gets this series back on track

The Rivers of Zadaa by D.J. MacHale

With The Rivers of Zadaa, the sixth book in his PENDRAGON series for young adults, D.J. MacHale gets the series back on track after a disappointingly preachy fifth book. If you haven’t read the previous books, but plan to, I advise you to read no further in this review. It’s impossible to talk about The Rivers of Zadaa without spoiling some of the plot of the previous books.

This time Bobby and Saint Dane are battling it out on Zadaa, Loor’s home planet. Saint Dane is trying to trigger chaos by causing strife between the territory’s two main tribes, the Rokador and the Batu. The Batu, the tribe to which Loor belongs, live on the sunny surface of the planet while the Rokador live in tunnels underground. The tribes used to have a synergistic relationship, but now they are on the verge of civil war because most of the wate... Read More

Midnight Blue-Light Special: Distant relatives and dancing mice

Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire

Midnight Blue-Light Special, Book Two in Seanan McGuire’s INCRYPTID series, wraps up some plot points, deepens some characters and expands the world of the stories. McGuire takes the expected “The Covenant Strikes Back” plot, but incorporates a few nice twists along the way.

The Covenant of St. George is a group dedicated to a “scorched earth” policy toward magical creatures, working hard to exterminate any cryptid race, no matter how harmless or, in some cases, helpful to humanity it might be. Several generations ago, the Healy family, loyal covenant members, realized that this approach was short-sighted and wrong. They left the Covenant and came to the New World. The Covenant branded them traitors and issued “kill on sight” orders. Ve... Read More

Fantastic Voyage: People inside a submarine inside a person

Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov

Jan Benes, a brilliant scientist from the Other Side, has knowledge that can deliver America a military advantage. Benes has decided to defect, but when the Americans smuggle Benes into the country, They shoot him. Though Benes survives, an inoperable blood clot threatens to end his life. But wait! There may be a new technology that could allow surgeons to remove the blood clot from inside Benes’ body.

Miniaturization is that secret new technology. Controlled by the Combined Miniature Defense Force (CMDF), miniaturization will allow “four men and one woman” in a submarine armed with surgical lasers to enter Benes’ blood stream. From within his arteries, the team hopes to destroy the clot, saving Benes’ life and delivering the Americans the technological advantages Benes has smuggled from the Other Side.

Fantastic Voyage is primarily told from the p... Read More

California: Mid-apocalyptic social commentary

California by Edan Lepucki

In Edan Lepucki’s debut novel California, published in 2014, Cal and Frida are a young couple trying to eke out a living in a post-apocalyptic Californian wilderness. Their relationship has fared relatively well during their two years of near-isolation, but the intrusion of strangers — first a small family, then Frida's unexpected pregnancy, and later a commune with its own deep problems and secrets — reveals severe cracks in their seemingly perfect marriage.

Perhaps post-apocalyptic isn't the right descriptor for the time setting. "Mid-apocalyptic" might be better, as the downfall of global society is due to neither nuclear winter, nor global pandemic, nor any of the currently fashionable world-killers. What Lepucki has created is a logical and refreshing extension of present-day problems into the year 2050, resulting in an America where heating oil, el... Read More

Beyond Thirty: A must-read for all ERB completists

Beyond Thirty by Edgar Rice Burroughs

By 1916, Edgar Rice Burroughs was already a popular and regular contributor to the pulp periodicals of the day. Though a late starter — his first work, the John Carter story "Under the Moons of Mars," was serialized in All-Story Magazine in 1912, when Burroughs was 36 — his output increased rapidly, to the point that by 1916, he had already seen the first three Carter works, the first two Tarzan titles, the first Pellucidar entry (At the Earth's Core), plus such various works as The Eternal Savage, The Monster Men and The Cave Girl, all printed in that same magazine. But despite his reputation at All-Story, he still managed to get his manuscript for ... Read More

The Never War: Subtle teaching moments and a real emotional impact

The Never War by D.J. MacHale

Note: Contains spoilers for previous PENDRAGON novels.

In The Never War, the third book in D.J. MacHale’s PENDRAGON series, Bobby is now 15 years old and is gaining experience as a Traveler. His job is to protect Earth and other territories of Halla (which includes all peoples, places, and times that have ever existed) from Saint Dane, the super duper evil villain whose goal is to increase chaos everywhere. Somehow, the chaos gives him power.

By the end of book two, The Lost City of Faar, Bobby has successfully foiled Saint Dane’s attempts to throw the territories of Denduron and Cloral into chaos. Now he and Spader, the Traveler from Cloral, are following Saint Dane to the next territory: First Earth. When th... Read More

New Amsterdam: Forensic sorcery

New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear

New Amsterdam is billed as “the hardcover debut” from Elizabeth Bear, who had been winning awards for her short stories and novels before this work was published in 2007. Though not exactly described as such, New Amsterdam is a compilation of six short stories, each connected to and increasingly dependent upon the others as the overarching plot progresses. While each story is ostensibly a mystery which requires investigation and the use of forensic sorcery in order to arrive at each solution, characters and world-building are the primary focus of Bear’s writing. For the most part, this works well, though there are some pieces which could have benefitted from closer authorial scrutiny, and I wish the concept of “forensic sorcery” had been brought to the fore. Read More

The Story of the Amulet: A charming classic

The Story of the Amulet by Edith Nesbit

The Story of the Amulet is a sequel to Edith Nesbit’s famous story collection, Five Children and It, in which five siblings discover a wish-granting sand fairy named The Psammead. Each story in Five Children and It tells of a single day when the children ask the Psammead for something they think they want. Their wishes always backfire and give Nesbit the opportunity to humorously illustrate the adage “be careful what you wish for.” At the end of Five Children and It, the siblings have learned their lesson and promise to never ask the sand fairy for another wish, but they mention that they hope to meet the Psammead again someday. And indeed they do in The Story of the Amulet. The children wander in... Read More