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A Voice in the Night: Definitely for established fans

A Voice in the Night by Jack McDevitt

Jack McDevitt is one of the numerous authors whose work I know because my dad said, “Hey, read this!” In McDevitt’s case, the “this” was The Engines of God. Having thus been introduced to recurring protagonist Priscilla Hutchins, I read several others of McDevitt’s novels and I’ve always enjoyed them. So I was interested to pick up this book of short stories to see how McDevitt does them.

Overall, I think I prefer McDevitt’s work at novel length; I think it’s because he does well with accumulation of detail over the course of a story. But A Voice in the Night (2018) does have several stories that I enjoyed.

The collection doesn’t have one unifying theme, but there are several themes that appear more than once. There ... Read More

Gates of Stone: Worldbuilding and characters make up for the well-trod plot

Gates of Stone by Angus Macallan

Angus Macallan turns in a solid if somewhat overly familiar fantasy story in Gates of Stone (2019), the first in a series entitled LORD OF THE ISLANDS. What saves the book from sinking in that familiarity, though, are some interesting characters and a less-familiar setting/mythos.

The novel follows four characters in mostly separated story lines, though they do cross paths now and then before the stories converge. In one, sixteen-year-old Princess Katerina, robbed of what she thinks was her rightful place as heir to the Empire of the Ice-Bear (think ancient Russia) and married off to a Southron prince, kills her new husband (not really a spoiler, as it’s both telegraphed and over with in the first few pages) and sets in motion plans to achieve her own power, plans that center on the islands of Laut Besar (think ancient Indonesia) and its... Read More

First Lensman: Book 2 of one of the greatest space operas

First Lensman by E. E. “Doc” Smith

Although a fairly direct sequel to Triplanetary, which is now almost universally regarded as the opening salvo in E. E. “Doc” Smith’s famed LENSMAN series, Book 2, perhaps misleadingly titled First Lensman, was actually the last of the six books comprising this most famous of all Golden Age space operas to be written. As I mentioned in my review of Book 1, Smith had originally written Books 3 through 6 over the 13-year period 1934 - ’47, but then felt that something in the order of a prequel for his remarkably complex story line was needed. Thus, Triplanetary first appeared in 1948, with First Lensman eventually showing up i... Read More

They Shall Have Stars: The technical details of how we’ll achieve this dream

They Shall Have Stars by James Blish

The optimism of Modernism expressed itself in a variety of fashions. Silver Age science fiction perhaps the grandest of them all, the infinite potential of technology was a playground which hundreds of writers rushed to frolic on. Jaunts to Mars, telekinetic communication, robot servants — a universe of ideas was the genre’s oyster. Space flight perhaps the most utilized trope, there was no shortage of schemes and inspiration about how mankind could achieve the stars. Approaching in realist mode (chronologically, that is), James Blish and his CITIES IN FLIGHT sequence posited that discoveries in mathematics and solar system exploration would be the ticket to the galaxy. After publishing a series of short stories wherein mankind’s urban environments were ‘launched’ into space, he realized the larger potential... Read More

The Initiation: Classic YA paranormal romance

Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

The Initiation by L.J. Smith

Cassie Blake is distraught when her mother decides to uproot to the small town of New Salem in order to take care of a grandmother who Cassie had never even met before. But that is only the start of her problems. Starting a new school, trying to make new friends — and discovering that some of the people she would most like to befriend are all part of some secret Club that Cassie is not permitted to join. Then a girl dies and Cassie is finally initiated into the Secret Circle, learning that magic is more than just a folktale.

These days the YA market is flooded with paranormal activity — witches amongst them. But in 1992 when LJ Smith first wrote The Secret Circle trilogy it was something fresh and new — and should be reviewed with that in mind. LJ Smith was producing w... Read More

Empress: So much action!

Empress by Mark Millar

Empress is another one of Mark Millar’s big-action comics. It’s about Earth’s first rulers, long ago, when apparently they had technology beyond anything we could imagine. The Empress, Emporia, lives with a terrible husband, King Morax, who is all-powerful and likes to express that power by killing his people for the smallest possible infraction. This story is about her escape from the misery of his company as she goes on the run with her family across the galaxy.

The story is fairly simple and lacks the complexity of Millar’s best work. Emporia’s bodyguard has agreed to help her escape along with her three kids, one of whom is a small baby. The action often involves monsters and other dangers, and the baby, Puck, frequently is thrown from his mother’s, brother’s, or sister’s arms as we watch what we assume will be his immediate death. At one point, he is thrown towa... Read More

Once Upon a River: A historic tale with a dash of fantasy

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Diane Setterfield offers up a great premise and a heaping sense of atmosphere in her newest novel, Once Upon a River (2018), but while the book offers up plenty of satisfying moments, I felt it fell short of its potential and was also somewhat marred by Setterfield’s lack of trust in her readers, though both of those complaints are admittedly more subjective than my typical criticism, so more than usual, one’s mileage may vary here.

As for that wholly engrossing premise, the book opens on the winter solstice in the late 19th century with a man stumbling into The Swan, an inn on the Thames known for its storytelling. In his hands is a young girl, seemingly dead, an assumption confirmed by the local nurse, Rita Sunday. But not much later, the girl miraculously comes back to life, th... Read More

A Different Flesh: Thoughtful stories about humanity

A Different Flesh by Harry Turtledove

A Different Flesh (1988), by Harry Turtledove, is a thoughtful collection of linked stories set in an alternate America which was inhabited by a hairy upright-walking sub-human species (homo erectus) when European settlers arrived. The settlers call them “sims.” The earliest story is set in 1610 and the last one in 1988 and, as the stories progress through time, we see the sims become more and more advanced, but it is clear that they will never reach the level of cognition that homo sapiens has achieved.

The relationship between sims and humans also progresses. In the first story, new European settlers are trying to wipe out the sims, who they view as animals. They do not succeed. By the final story, there is a much different relationship between the t... Read More

The Gutter Prayer: Alchemical fire, living saints, and knucklebones

The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan

The first instalment in Gareth Hanrahan’s THE BLACK IRON LEGACY is a bit like an avalanche: The Gutter Prayer (2019) starts out slowly and a tad scattershot, taking about 150 - 200 pages to build momentum, but when everything falls into place, it becomes an onslaught, picking up speed over the next 300 or so pages before crashing to a breathless finish.

Within the ancient coastal city of Guerdon, citizens maintain an air of normalcy, going about their daily lives as though below the city streets there aren’t miles and miles of subterranean warrens and passages filled with flesh-eating ghouls and Crawling Ones, hive-minded masses of sentient maggots. Liberal use of alchemy enriches their lives, providing conveniences and medicine (for a price) and enforcing the law via Tallowmen, humanoid figures made of animated wa... Read More

Year of the Griffin: A sweet boarding school fantasy

Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones

Year of the Griffin (2000) is a sequel (of sorts) to Diana Wynne JonesDark Lord of Derkholm, a satirical fantasy aimed at children and young adults, but just as enjoyable for grown-ups. Year of the Griffin is different — it’s not a satire and, for that reason, probably isn’t as appealing to adults, but I still enjoyed it. It’s what I like to call a boarding school fantasy, in the vein of HARRY POTTER. You don’t need to read Dark Lord of Derkholm first.

Year of the Griffin begins eight years after the events of Dark Lord of Derkholm and stars one of Derk... Read More

THE FADED SUN: An epic tale of clashing civilizations

THE FADED SUN by C.J. Cherryh

C.J. Cherryh’s FADED SUN trilogy (1978) consists of three books: Kesrith, Shon’jir, and Kutath. They’ve been bundled into an omnibus edition and Tantor Media sent me a review copy of their recently released audiobook version.

The three novels make up a continuous story of clashing civilizations that takes place in the far future with a few alien species on several distant planets. One of these species is the Mri, a race of excellent fighters who hire themselves out as mercenaries to other races. For two thousand years they have been acting as the military arm of a more technologically-advanced and power-hungry race called the Regul. The Regul are not suited to combat because they become heavy and immobile as they age, so t... Read More

Lipstick Voodoo: Murder in Seattle… and it’s not necessarily the zombies

Lipstick Voodoo by Kristi Charish

Kincaid Strange is a 27-year-old woman who's one of the only "zombie practitioners" in the Seattle area. She can temporarily (or permanently, for that matter) raise people from the dead, which is clearly handy when you want to temporarily raise a rich old man and ask him to amend his will in order to avoid a family lawsuit. Lipstick Voodoo (2019) opens with just such a scene, with a crotchety old man who’s not impressed with his family’s reasons for raising him from the dead, and an impressively sleazy lawyer.

The laws against paranormal dealings have been relaxed somewhat due to the fallout from the events of The Voodoo Killings, the first book in this KINCAID STRANGE urban fantasy series (obligatory spoiler warning here for that book). Unfortunately... Read More

The Cold Between: Pleasant but mundane space opera

The Cold Between by Elizabeth Bonesteel

The Cold Between is the first novel in Elizabeth Bonesteel’s CENTRAL CORPS trilogy. This military space opera focuses more on personal and romantic relationships than most in this genre do. I’m tempted to call it romantic military space opera. The publisher compares Elizabeth Bonesteel’s work to that of Elizabeth Moon and Lois McMaster Bujold. I have read both of those authors’ space operas and I can say that this comparison is inaccurate. Bonesteel is writing for the same audience, but doesn’t quite make it in this debut novel.

The prologue of The Cold Between takes place 25 years before the events of the trilogy and briefly introduces us to Kate and her co... Read More

Thin Air: An intense, foul-mouthed, high-octane thriller

Thin Air by Richard K. Morgan

Richard K. Morgan’s stand-alone novel Thin Air (2018) is set on Mars in the universe of his novel Thirteen. His protagonist, Hakan Veil, is a disgraced “enforcer” who’s just been dumped on Mars by the corporation to whom he had been indentured since childhood. They recently fired him. Hakan would love to get back to Earth, but that’s nearly impossible these days because it costs too much to get there and Earth lets very few people in. Mars is a hostile and decadent world with a populace made up of many criminal elements.

Fortunately, Hakan still retains some of the genetic enhancements his company supplied before cutting ties with him. This makes him a total badass. Corporate enforce... Read More

A Conjuring of Light: A few issues, but still a nice close to a strong trilogy

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

A Conjuring of Light (2017) brings V.E. Schwab’s multi-world trilogy to a close while leaving plenty of room for future stories in the SHADES OF MAGIC universe. We (Bill and Marion) both read it, and we share their thoughts about the third book below. This review may contain light spoilers for A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows.

A Gathering of Shadows ended on a cliffhanger. In the opening chapter of A Conjuring of Light, Delilah Bird has entered the world of White London to save Kell, who has fought off posse... Read More

It Happened at the Ball: 13 stories with ballroom settings

It Happened at the Ball edited by Sherwood Smith

This collection of thirteen (mostly) fantasy short stories and a novelette or two is tied together by their ballroom settings, whether it be the Almack’s Regency ballroom (where a group of young ladies happens upon an overly potent magical love potion in Marissa Doyle’s “Just Another Quiet Evening at Almack’s”) or a Civil War-era ball in Galveston, Texas (P.G. Nagle’s “A Waltz for May”). There are also some other themes that surface and resurface: masks and hidden identities, romance, and ― as editor and author Sherwood Smith freely admits in her foreword ― escapist wish-fulfillment. Here be faeries, vampires, thieves, pirates and lots of other intriguing ... Read More

Breach: A decent start to a Cold War fantasy series

Breach by W.L Goodwater

Breach (2018) is an interesting Cold War fantasy premise (think John le Carré with magic) that doesn’t quite fulfill its promise, though it’s a solid enough start to what is apparently going to be a series, COLD WAR MAGIC.

W.L Goodwater sets his novel in an alternate history where WWII was fought and won as in our own world (though with the Nazis apparently gaining more ground before eventually losing) with the exception that magic was wielded as a horrific weapon throughout, particularly by the Nazis, whose “research” into magic often involved Mengele-like methods. As in our world, Berlin was carved up into sectors and the Russians/East Germans built a wall, though this one is made out of magic rather than cement and brick.

Unfortunately, the wall is starting to fail (the titular “breach”), which on the surface sounds l... Read More

Eternity’s Wheel: A nice introduction to SF for tweens

Eternity’s Wheel by Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves & Mallory Reaves

This review will contain spoilers for the previous two INTERWORLD books, InterWorld and The Silver Dream. You need to read those books before starting Eternity’s Wheel or you'll have no idea what's going on.

After discovering in the last book, The Silver Dream, that Hex and Binary are working together to destroy the universes, Joey finds himself back on Earth and not able to get back to InterWorld because it’s being chased by Hex. Though cut off from his fellow Walkers, Joey is determined to fight for his universe’s future, so he focuses on recruiting new agents and building up an InterWorld ba... Read More

The Razor: Comfortably familiar

The Razor by J. Barton Mitchell

Reading J. Barton Mitchell’s The Razor (2018) was a lot like going to the cinema with friends to see a big-budget blockbuster of a sci-fi/horror flick: there are some interesting settings and explosive plot developments, tough-as-plasteel characters gradually reveal inner hearts of gold, shadowy figures make dubious deals while our heroes struggle valiantly against impossible odds, and the ending sets up the possibility for more of the same. It’s entertaining, even if there’s nothing all that earth-shattering, and it was relaxing to spend a few afternoons indulging the part of my brain that loves seeing stuff go boom.

11-H37, aka The Razor, is a prison planet tidally locked in orbit around a red giant star. The hemisphere facing the star is constantly blasted by radiation and is, therefore, uninhabitable; the hemisphere facing away is a frozen wastela... Read More

The Girl with the Dragon Heart: Creating your own story

The Girl with the Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Stephanie Burgis follows up last year’s award-nominated middle grade fantasy The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart with The Girl with the Dragon Heart (2018), the second book in her TALES FROM THE CHOCOLATE HEART series. The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart followed the escapades of Aventurine, a chocolate-loving young dragon enchanted into the shape of a young girl. The focus now shifts to Aventurine’s friend Silke, a dark-skinned girl with short black curly hair. More importantly, Silke is also brave, quick-thinking and fast-moving, and has a great talent for creating stories, including her own.

Silke, an ... Read More

Sister Mine: A refreshingly unique stand-alone fantasy

Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson

Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine (2013) is a refreshingly unique stand-alone fantasy novel featuring characters, settings, and situations that you’ve never seen before. Makeda and her twin sister Abby were conjoined at birth. Now that they are separated, they each suffer some sort of loss. Abby’s loss is obvious — her body isn’t formed quite right and she has some physical deficits. Makeda’s loss is less obvious — she does not have the mojo that her sister got from their unusual parents... or so she thinks.

Desperate to get out from under the wing of her protective twin sister, Makeda is moving into her own apartment. She wants to live her own life in a world where she doesn’t feel like she’s malformed. But in her new apartment complex, she meets an attractive young man... Read More

The Silver Dream: The stakes get even higher

The Silver Dream by Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves & Mallory Reaves

This review will contain spoilers for the first INTERWORLD book, InterWorld. You should read InterWorld (2007) before beginning The Silver Dream (2013).

Joey Harker, the Walker, is now almost 17 years old and he has so far survived as a member of the InterWorld, the military organization made up of all the Joeys in the altiverses who have come together to protect their earths from the Hex and the Binary. On one of their missions, they somehow manage to bring back a stowaway when they return to their secret base. It’s a girl named Acacia Jones and she has a supernatural power, too. While the Joeys can walk through different spatial dimensions, Acacia can walk through time. She’s a handy ally to h... Read More

Interworld: Fun science fiction for kids and teens

Interworld by Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves

Joey Harker thinks he’s a pretty normal kid except that he’s got a horrible sense of direction. When his social studies teacher makes the kids try to find their way back to school after being dropped off somewhere in town, Joey gets lost. That’s when he discovers there’s a good reason for his deficit — he’s a Walker. In fact, he’s THE Walker. He can travel through all the (heretofore unknown to Joey) alternate earths.

When Joey accidentally walks out of our earth, the InterWorld finds him. This is an organization made up of all the Walkers (i.e., all the Joey Harkers) who exist in all the alternate earths. They form a military unit that keeps their earths safe from the Hex and the Binary, the two groups that are trying to exploit the earths for their own purposes. The Hex, which controls some of the worlds, uses magic, while the Binary, which c... Read More

The Last Unicorn: The Lost Journey: The road not taken

 

The Last Unicorn: The Lost Journey by Peter S. Beagle

Marking the fiftieth anniversary of Peter S. Beagle's gorgeous, iconic fantasy The Last Unicorn, he unearthed this long-buried first version of that novel, written one memorable summer in 1962 when twenty-three year old Beagle was renting a cabin in the Berkshires with an artistic friend, Phil, and working on his writing craft. The Last Unicorn: The Lost Journey (2018) starts off nearly identical to the novel, painting a beloved character with these familiar words:
The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam, but rather the c... Read More

Diamond Fire: Wedding-related trials for the sister of the bride

 

Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews

Nevada Baylor is getting married to Connor Rogan, and when Rogan’s mother Arrosa shuts down their plans for a small and simple wedding, insisting on a full-scale formal wedding, a couple of things happen. Nevada inexplicably gets incredibly fussy and controlling about the wedding details, firing two wedding planners, and her beleaguered 18 and 16 year old sisters Catalina and Arabella decide that the only feasible option is to handle the wedding planning themselves. And a large crowd of Rogan’s Spanish relatives on his mother’s side descends on Mrs. Rogan’s Texas mansion for a few weeks’ stay before the wedding. The half of those relatives who descend from her father’s second wife are already hostile, and matters only get worse when everyone is cooped up together in the same home, however large and luxurious.

Now the Rogan family’s valuable heirloom wed... Read More