Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest
In the North America of 1879, the American Civil War is still going on. A deadly drug from the Pacific Northwest is killing people, then converting them into undead monsters. While technological advances burgeoned during the war, both sides are depleted of soldiers, revenue and hope. This conflict can’t continue, especially with the drug disease making its way to the highly populated north-and-southeast. President U.S. Grant, finishing up his second term and preparing a run for his third, has an opportunity to end it once and for all, by unleashing a devastating weapon that will shock the Confederacy into surrender before any more people die. At least, that’s how it’s been described to him.
At the beginning of THE CLOCKWORK CENTURY series, Cherie Priest said that she would end the war by the end of the series. She didn’t say it would be pretty. In Fid... Read More
Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest
The Vampire Prince by Darren Shan
Warning: This review contains spoilers for the previous books.
In the previous book, Trials of Death, author Darren Shan left us on a cliffhanger and I’m pretty sure that most readers will be running out to pick up this book, The Vampire Prince, no matter what anybody says. Still, it’s my job to say something about it, so I’ll do that.
OK, it’s no big surprise, I guess, that Darren survived the events of Trials of Death. When he recovers, he has a big decision to make. He managed to escape from Vampire Mountain, but now he has learned that the vampaneze are hiding in the caves in the mountain and that Kurda, who’s about to become a vampire prince, is a traitor. Kurda plans to let their enemies in as soon as he’s crowned. If Darren doesn’t tell the other princes in time, all the vampires in the mountain will be wiped out. But he... Read More
Red Cells by Jeffrey Thomas
Jeffrey Thomas’s new novella, Red Cells, is set in his PUNKTOWN universe full of mutants, odd species, and humans, and the good, bad and ugly of each. Red Cells deals more with the ugly: Edwin Fetch has earned himself a six month term in the penitentiary for possession with intent to sell purple vortex. Specifically, he’s to be shipped to the Trans-Paxton Penitentiary, known to its inmates as the Wormhole, a transdimensional prison carved out of the planes between existence. But Fetch has a better idea. He hires Jeremy Stake, a mutant whose condition is called Caro turbida, to serve the time for him. Stake’s mutation allows him to assume the shape of another if he concentrates hard enough on it, and Stake has had a tattoo of Fetch (holding a gorgeous woman for verisimilitude) inked on his arm to keep him focused. Stake is a former soldier in the Blue War, which ended fift... Read More
The Martian by Andy Weir
Mars has long had a somewhat cursed reputation in space exploration. Launch failures, midair explosions, crash landings. Probes that missed the planet completely. Probes we’ve never heard from again and still don’t know what happened. By the time of Andy Weir’s The Martian, though, things have been on a better trajectory for some time and humanity has successfully landed several expeditions on Mars. Mark Watney is the engineer/botanist on the third such expedition, Ares 3, which is just coming up on the end of their first week of a month-long stay. Unfortunately, this is where Mars’ checkered past comes roaring back in the form of a sudden huge sandstorm that forces an abort of the mission and a quick exit from the planet. Or, a quick exit for all of the crew but Watney, who through a freak occurrence is presumed dead and thus abandoned, leading to the novel’s classic opening line: “I’m pretty much... Read More
Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard
Moth and Spark, Anne Leonard’s debut novel, is a member of a very specific and well-populated fantasy subgenre: a classic tale of high romance, sword fighting, dragon-riding, and faux-medieval politicking. It’s more or less the Anne McCaffrey and Patricia Briggs reading of my middle school years, read and re-read with all the critical discernment of a kid shoving cotton candy down her throat at the fair. Moth and Sparkwas cotton candy of the most typical sort — nothing but air and spun sugar, but still a sweet way to pass the time.
The plot is an old friend to romance and fantasy readers. Corin is the prince of a small but plucky kingdom ruled by a dan... Read More
The Vampire's Assistant by Darren Shan
Warning: This is the second book in the CIRQUE DU FREAK series, so this review necessarily contains spoilers for Book 1.
Darren Shan’s life is officially a mess after several monumental screw-ups which were detailed in the previous appropriately named book, A Living Nightmare. He has left home and joined the Cirque du Freak as Mr. Crepsley’s assistant. Mr. Crepsley is a vampire and Darren is now a half-vampire. Darren has super strength and speed and, he discovers, he’s dangerous to humans. He’s bummed out because not only has he left his family and friends (who think he’s dead), but he now worries that he’ll never be able to have any friends at all. He also despairs because he knows that, eventually, he’ll have to start drinking human blood.... or die.
Darren’s a sweet kid, despite his mistakes, so readers will be pleased to see Darren m... Read More
A Living Nightmare by Darren Shan
“Only the world’s dumbest person would run a risk like that again. Step forward — Darren Shan!”
Darren Shan (which is the name of the author and the protagonist of the CIRQUE DU FREAK series) was having a pretty normal life until one of his best friends finds an advertisement for the Cirque du Freak. After they “borrow” some money from their parents and sneak out at night, Darren and Steve discover a weird world that they never could have dreamed of. Darren is particularly enchanted by Mr. Crepsley and his performing spider, Madam Octa. This spider kills a goat on stage and then obeys Mr. Crepsley’s commands. When they stay after the show, Darren and Steve discover that Mr. Crepsley is a vampire!
Darren should have left well enough alone, but, unfortunately, he makes another crucial error in judgment. And another, and another. Horror is heaped upon horror... Read More
Startide Rising by David Brin
I had never read a David Brin book before reading Startide Rising. Hearing his background was in math, physics, astronomy, etc., I went about buying one of his books with trepidation. Isaac Asimov, Vernor Vinge, Alastair Reynolds, and other popular science fiction authors may be good scientists, but they lack the touch and feel of an inborn writer and the style of their novels suffers. Though it’s prose is not glorious, Startide Rising was nevertheless a pleasant surprise.
A fun mix of hard SF and space opera, Startide Rising is a unique story that sets itself apart from derivative SF for its premise. A dolphin and human... Read More
Dreams of the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn
Dreams of the Golden Age is the follow up to Carrie Vaughn’s After the Golden Age, to which I gave only a middling review thanks to issues of plotting and characterization. While the sequel suffers from some of the same problems, they crop up less frequently and are less problematic. The main character, meanwhile, is a more active and engaging voice and so I found Dreams of the Golden Age to be more successful and thus far more enjoyable.
The sequel picks up a good number of years after its predecessor. At the end of After the Golden Age, Celia had married Dr. Mentis and taken over as head of West Corps. She is now the mother of two teen daughters, one of whom — Anna — will split POVs with Celia for the novel. Unlike her mother, Anna has inherited the family superpower genes, but much to her dismay she has what she considers a near-u... Read More
The New Space Opera 2: All-New Tales of Science Fiction Adventure edited by Gardner Dozois & Jonathan Strahan
The New Space Opera 2: All-New Tales of Science Fiction Adventure is, as its name implies, the second of Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan’s themed anthologies attempting to put a modern spin on space opera, a subgenre of science fiction which causes many of us to think of big metal spaceships crewed by handsome blaster-wielding men who protect us from evil aliens that want to destroy the Earth, or at least steal it’s shrieking scantily clad women. We laugh at these old stories now — the way they ignore the vacuum of space and the effects of relativity, the way their aliens seem a lot less alien than they should, and the way that they rarely seem to display the variety in ... Read More
God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert
Given the coarse, operatic nature of Dune’s two sequels, I was reluctant to continue the series. I thought Leto II’s rise to power was an appropriate place to leave off in the cycle despite the three sequels Herbert penned. After reviewing Dune Messiah and Children of Dune, however, someone told me that the first three novels were in fact just stage-setting for the fourth, God Emperor of Dune, and if I was to truly appreciate the series I needed to continue. Continue I did, and though I still think Dune Read More
Protector by Larry Niven
Phssthpok is a protector of his race, the Pak. For thousands of years he’s been traveling space, looking for the Pak breeders that left his war-torn planet millions of years before. This is, biologically, the only thing Phssthpok lives for and if he doesn’t find them soon, he’s likely to stop eating and die. Finally, in our year 2125, Phssthpok thinks he may have found the lost breeders, though they have evolved so differently than they would have if they had remained at home that they are almost unrecognizable. When Phssthpok meets Jack Brennan, a human who’s been mining in the outer asteroid belt, he kidnaps him, takes him to Mars, and initiates a project that will (again) change the course of human history.
It may not seem like it at first, but Protector is a novel of ideas, mostly having to do with the origin of humanity and its place in the universe. Niven’s extra-terrestrial origin of man... Read More
The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu
First of all, let me discuss what I liked about Wesley Chu’s The Lives of Tao. The book is imaginative, filled with action and adventure. Many parts are funny. Chu turns the standard secret-agent-in-training trope into a shameless, almost glorious free-for-all of fantasy wish-fulfillment. The book has secret bases, oodles of weapons, a luxury submarine — and the nebbishy guy gets the hot girl. It’s Ian Fleming with aliens and lattes instead of martinis.
Many millions of years ago, a shipful of aliens, the Quasing, crashed on earth. The Quasing are energy-based, non-corporeal, and our sun’s radiation is fatal to them. They could protect themselves, though, by taking refuge inside another life form. Eventually, they began to inhabit primates, and have been affecting human evolution ever since.
Over the ages, the Quasing split into two groups. One sees all of Earth, inclu... Read More
Maze by J.M. McDermott
J.M. McDermott’s Maze is about a maze. Or possibly the maze: An unending series of stone halls and corridors which lurks in our primordial past, populated by monstrous creatures, loops and fragments of non-linear time, and a ragged band of humans who somehow got stranded there. The maze is never revealed to have any moral or mechanical logic; it just is, and the people who live there just do. Maze operates as a disjointed series of narratives about the people who have fallen into the maze. There are glimpses of their past worlds (a spaceship, medieval France, dystopian Texas), but the bulk of the novel is about the gritty, ugly process of surviving in an inhospitable place. It’s surreal, scattered, gruesome, and sometimes excellent.
Many books with ambitions towards literary surrealism leave me floating in ... Read More
Rex Regis by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Regis Regis is the eighth book of the IMAGER PORTFOLIO and the fifth book following Quaeryt. After literally years of hard work, war, and nothing less than miraculous events, the curtain begins to close on this part of Solidar's history.
The fall of Antiago had been particularly painful for Quaeryt because of the loss of his child when his wife was injured. The reality of the constant threat of power-hungry competitors to influence the future of the continent of Lydar leaves Quaeryt with very little time to heal or mourn. In spite of his incredible success, Quaeryt knows that he must race back to report to Bhayar, now ruler of almost all of Lydar.
As in the previous four books, Quaeryt spends a great deal of time interacting with recalcitrant High Holders. These men enjoyed great power under the previous ruler of Bovaria, but are now very slow to adapt ... Read More