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Extinction Game: Post-apocalyptic parallel universes!

Extinction Game by Gary Gibson

I was really looking forward to Gary Gibson's Extinction Game, as it combines two of my favorite concepts: parallel universes and post-apocalyptic settings. But while I found it a generally pleasant read, I'd be lying if I didn't admit it was a bit disappointing, perhaps because of those high expectations.

The premise is so great I'm shocked that it hasn't actually been done before. Jerry Beche, one of the few survivors of an extinction-level, planet-wide plague, hasn't seen a person for years, so he is understandably surprised when he finds a set of footprints outside his home. He is even more shocked when the people those prints belong to abduct him and then explain they are from a parallel Earth that has also suffered its own extinction event. Even better, they work for a mysterious entity (is there any other kind of entity?) called The Authority, which i... Read More

Horrible Monday: Carpathian Castle by Jules Verne

Carpathian Castle by Jules Verne

When 35-year-old Jules Verne managed to sell what would become his first published novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon, to the already long-established literary publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel, in 1863, little could the two Frenchmen know that this was just the beginning of a decades-long association. Hetzel was already a well-known Parisian figure, having previously released works by such luminaries as Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Honore de Balzac. Verne, the future “Father of Science Fiction,” was an unknown commodity in 1863; a lawyer who found his true calling as a writer of adventure tales (just as this reader’s personal favorite author, Englishman H. Rider Haggard, would do 20 years later). Five Weeks in a Balloon Read More

Edge: The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

The Frangipani Hotel  by Violet Kupersmith

[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.]

While I found most of the stories in Violet Kupersmith’s The Frangipani Hotel to be solidly engaging, I can’t say any of them struck me with any particular weight. They were amiable enough, and several of them had some beautiful passages of description or some sharply defined moments of characterization, and a few have a deliciously creepy supernatural element, but as much as I was mildly enjoying myself, I kept waiting for one to grab me wholly. Unfortunately, none did.

The first, “Boat Sto... Read More

The Accidental Highwayman: Fast-paced and funny

The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp

Ben Tripp's YA book, The Accidental Highwayman: Being the Tale of Kit Bristol, His Horse Midnight, a Mysterious Princess, and Sundry Magical Persons Besides, is the first in a series, and it's a heck of a lot of fun.

It tells the story of Kit Bristol, an orphan and circus performer who has become a valet to a mysterious gentleman. He quickly learns that his employer is none other than Whistling Jack, a notorious highwayman with a bounty on his head. After Whistling Jack is mortally wounded, Kit is mistaken for him and flees for his life. He finds that he has been charged with completing a task that Whistling Jack left undone: to rescue Princess Morgana from the clutches of her father, the King of Faerie, who has planned to marry Morgana off to Prince George of England. After he rescues her, the two of them set off on a madcap journey around... Read More

Horrible Monday: Cold Turkey by Carole Johnstone

Cold Turkey by Carole Johnstone

I’ve always been grateful that I never started smoking. I’m the kind of person who would be smoking a good three packs per day if I had, and I’d probably already be at death’s door, having been unable to quit. It would be easier to climb Mount Everest.

Carole Johnstone gives us a lesson in just how hard it is to give up the coffin nails in her novella, Cold Turkey. Raym has just done so for the umpteenth time, and it’s turning into the third-worst day of his life, precedence being given only to the days his parents died. Raym doesn’t understand why he continues to smoke, despite the fact that his parents died gruesome deaths because of their own smoking habits; but now he’s giving up cold turkey. No, really. None of the other teachers at his elementary school really believe he’ll do it. And he suffers mightily that evening as he sits in fr... Read More

The Hero of Ages: In which most of my questions get answered

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

The Hero of Ages is Brandon Sanderson’s final book in the MISTBORN TRILOGY. As you probably know, but I didn’t, Sanderson envisioned a novena of books in this world. (I just made up that usage of “novena,” by the way); three trilogies in three separate sub-genres: epic fantasy, urban fantasy and science fiction. The Hero of Ages completed the epic fantasy series and creates the world in which the other six books will take place.

While I enjoyed Mistborn, the first book, I struggled with the bridge book, The Well of Ascension. I thought that Sanderson fell down, badly, on describing this world — and the world description and background is more important to this series than some others. It felt as if Sanderson was hand-waving away lots of serious ga... Read More

The Jesus Incident: A curious book

The Jesus Incident by Frank Herbert & Bill Ransom

In Herbert’s 1966 novel Destination: Void, a story about an experiment to create artificial intelligence, a crew was sent out to space with only two alternatives: succeed or die. In the late 1970s, Herbert returned to the Destination: Void universe with a new novel co-authored by Bill Ransom. Herbert rewrote parts of the original novel which he felt were dated, and the new version was published in 1978, slightly before The Jesus Incident. According to Dreamer of Dune, Brian Herbert's biography of his father, the writing of this new novel was not without its challenges. They based the story on a shorter piece named Songs of a Sentient Flute. When the first draft was almost completed, copyright issues arose. The planet... Read More

Assail: Ties up some loose plot threads and raises entirely new questions

Assail by Ian C. Esslemont

Once upon a time one could speak of the “upcoming conclusion” to the tales of the Malazan Empire, the multi-volume shared world series by Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont. But with Erikson currently writing the second book in his prequel trilogy, and both he and Esslemont contracted for more books set in this world, it’s best nowadays to perhaps muse on “resting points” rather than “conclusions.” And so it is with Esslemont’s sixth book, Assail, billed as bringing to “a thrilling close” the “epic story of the Malazan Empire,” but which also, even as it ties up some loose plot threads, raises entirely new questions. And that’s fine; even with my admittedly mixed response to Assail, I... Read More

Out on Blue Six: Really bizarre

Out On Blue Six by Ian McDonald

Courtney Hall is a cartoonist because that’s the job she’s been assigned by the tyrannical government agencies that dictate all of the details of everyone’s life — where they live, who their friends are, who they marry, what job they do. The goal of the government, which consists of such agencies as the Ministry of Pain, the Compassionate Society, and the Love Police, is to analyze every citizen’s genes and personality so that they can be assigned to the lifestyle that will minimize their pain and maximize their happiness, thus creating a populace that is obedient and compliant. The government assures that its dictates are adhered to by monitoring all activity and censoring criticism.

Most people seem content in the Compassionate Society because they like being pain-free, doing a job that they love (even if they’re not good at it) and being married to people who they’re compatible with... Read More

Tendeleo’s Story: A companion to McDonald’s CHAGA novels

Tendeleo’s Story by Ian McDonald

Tendeleo’s Story is a short companion novel to Ian McDonald’s CHAGA series which is about an alien tropical plant-like life form that drops from space and lands in several equatorial regions of Earth. The first CHAGA novel, Evolution’s Shore, follows Irish reporter Gaby McAslin as she documents the biological, societal, and political changes that occur in Kenya as the Chaga descends from Mount Kilimanjaro and overruns Nairobi. In Kirinya, the second book, Gaby joins the people who have decided to (or been forced to) live in the Chaga rather than fleeing northward to safety. Meanwhile, a subplot follows Dr. Shepherd, one of Gaby’s lovers, who is studying and trying to figure out the purpose, mechanisms, and creator of the Chaga.

Tendeleo’s Story does n... Read More

The Silent Blade: A Drizzt novel only in name

The Silent Blade by R.A. Salvatore

The Silent Blade is in every regard an improvement over the LEGEND OF DRIZZT’s preceding installment, Passage to Dawn. The plot is tighter, the characterization is subtler, and – stressing this point most of all – the prose has taken leaps and bounds forward. However, this is also the installment of THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT that finally convinced me that the series has not only jumped the shark, but is doing Evel Knievel motorcycle flips over whole tanks of great whites.

Previously, on Drizzt and Friends, the demon Errtu finally (!) managed to return to the mortal plane and gain possession of the crystal shard. At last granted his heart’s desire, Errtu was primed and ready to doom the earth to a living hell. Except he wasn’t, because Drizzt and his crew came bustling in like grumpy border patrol officers and spanked him straight back to the netherworld f... Read More

Warlord: Satisfying resolution (but not the end of the story)

Warlord by Jennifer Fallon

Warlord is the last book in Jennifer Fallon’s WOLFBLADE trilogy which is a prequel to her DEMON CHILD trilogy and part of her HYTHRUN CHRONICLES. Like its predecessors, Wolfblade and Warrior, it’s a huge sprawling epic (26 hours on audio). The story starts immediately after the tragic events of Warrior (which you really must read first). Marla is still the wealthiest and most powerful woman in the country, but she has taken a major hit and, in some ways, feels alone, despite her large family.

Hablet, the Fardohnian king, is planning to take advantage of Hythria’s weakness while the country is recovering from a plague and while their high prince, Lernen, a useless wastrel, is still ruling. Hablet is massing his army for an invasion and hoping that... Read More

The January Dancer: A very good space opera

The January Dancer by Michael Flynn

The January Dancer is a very good space opera… I wish it had tipped over into great. There is a lot going on here to love: a sufficiently deep future history created through the liberal use of allusion that references any number of existing earth cultures (heavily relying on Celtic and cultures from the Indian subcontinent) along with some pretty swell creations of Flynn’s own (the Hounds, ‘those of Name’, the Terran Corners, the Rift, the People of Sand & Iron, etc.) in which the diaspora of humanity has settled across the cosmos, making use of an intriguingly pseudo-scientific explanation for FTL travel; a cast of varied and interesting characters of disparate parts coming together, as though by chance, to solve the mystery of a powerful pre-human artifact; and perhaps most of all the well-crafted prose of Michael Flynn that provides a certain shine to what might have be... Read More

Warrior: It’s Dynasty with swords and magic

Warrior by Jennifer Fallon

Warrior is the second installment in Jennifer Fallon’s WOLFBLADE trilogy, a prequel to her DEMON CHILD trilogy. Both trilogies make up the HYTHRUN CHRONICLES. In the first book, Wolfblade, which you’ll definitely want to read before picking up Warrior, we were introduced to Marla Wolfblade, sister to Lernen Wolfblade, the High Prince of Hythria. When we first met Marla, she was a bubble-headed blonde teenager dreaming of marrying a handsome warlord. At the end of the very long (600 pages, 25 hours in audio format) story, Marla had become a cynical and savvy politician and the most powerful woman in Hythria, thanks to her dwarf slave and a series of unfortunate politically-motivated disasters including adultery, betrayals, kidnappings, and assassinations.

Warrior... Read More

Mistborn: Liked it, didn’t love it

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

I didn’t love Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy Mistborn, but I liked it a lot. I enjoyed the brisk action sequences, especially the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-style combat scenes, where Sanderson’s magically-enhanced characters, the Allomancers, leap and soar about in defiance of gravity.

In Sanderson’s fantasy universe, some gifted people can access magical powers by ingesting a tiny bit of certain metals. They then rapidly metabolize or “burn” the metal and it provides them with powers. Most of the Allomancers are from the line of the nobility, but there wouldn’t be a story if they all were, and Mistborn follows primarily the growth of Vin, an orphaned street urchin attached to a gang of thieves. Vin doesn’t know she is an Allomancer.

The plot of the story is an attempt to stage a rebelli... Read More

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