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Supersymmetry: A thriller with cool science and lots of heart

Supersymmetry by David Walton

Warning: May contain mild spoilers for Superposition

Supersymmetry is David Walton’s sequel to Superposition. While Superposition was a quantum physics murder mystery, Supersymmetry is a thriller. The action starts on page 8 and never really flags, and yes, the physics do matter.

In the first book, Jacob Kelley and his family battled an intelligent quantum entity they called the varcolac. They prevailed, but the struggle resulted in a quantum event that split the Kelley’s teenaged daughter Allesandra into two people (two points on a probability wave). Now fifteen years later, their wave has not resolved itself, and the twins, as they style themselves, have grown in... Read More

Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days: Two novellas by Alastair Reynolds

Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds

For years I’ve been planning to read Alastair Reynolds’ REVELATION SPACE series; I even own all the books in audio format. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. But when I got an audio copy of Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days, a collection of two stand-alone novellas set in Reynolds’ world, it seemed like the right time and place to jump in.

Diamond Dogs is an exciting horror adventure that was, honestly, just a touch too gruesome for me, even though I loved the plot and scenery. The story starts in Chasm City, a place I can’t wait to explore in Reynolds’ novel called Chasm City. A wealthy eccentric man has assembled a team of adventurers that he takes to the mysterious Blood Spire on the planet Golgotha. (Sounds ominous, doesn’t it?) This black metallic tower contains a serie... Read More

To Hold the Bridge: An inventive and engaging collection of short-stories

To Hold the Bridge by Garth Nix

This is not the first time Garth Nix (or at least his publisher) has released an anthology like this one: a short story collection that heavily emphasizes the inclusion of a brand new tale set within the Old Kingdom (the setting of his most famous works: Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen and the recent Clariel) but which also contains an eclectic assortment of unrelated stories.

The last anthology was called Across the Wall, and as with that book there may be a few readers disappointed in the fact that only the first story is set within the Old Kingdom – and unlike Across the Wall, it does not contain any familiar characters from the rest of the series, only the city of Belisaere and the Guilds that make up such a large part o... Read More

The Chronicle of Secret Riven: A quietly beguiling if slow story

The Chronicle of Secret Riven by Ronlyn Domingue

It’s not that often that I’ll pick up the second book of a series after I couldn’t finish the first (I’m not even sure it’s ever happened). But while The Mapmaker’s War, Ronlyn Domingue’s first book in her KEEPER OF TALES trilogy, drove me to give it up about seventy percent through, mostly because I just didn’t care much about what happened to anyone, there was enough talent in the writing and ambition in the telling that I was willing to give book two a shot. I confess, it also helped that I knew The Chronicles of Secret Riven was set roughly a millennium or so in the future and used a different point of view. The sequel still has a few carry-over issues from its predecessor, and admittedly a few new ones as well, but ... Read More

The End of All Things: A fun ride, with some missed opportunities

The End of All Things by John Scalzi

My experience with John Scalzi’s latest book in the OLD MAN’S WAR series, The End of All Things, was familiar: errands were delayed and chores undone as I pushed back everything so I could keep reading ‘til the end. Scalzi’s accessible style, brisk pacing and interesting premise certainly held my interest. Some favorite characters returned. Spaceships blew up and blew each other up, and there was an exciting ending. Looking back, though, I see missed opportunities.

Kat read the audio book and she adds her thoughts in blue.

The End of All Things focuses on the growing sense of discontent and unrest among the planets of the Colonial Union and the distrust between the Conclave, an... Read More

The Dark Forest: Only 400 years to prepare for an alien invasion

The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu

The Dark Forest is Cixin Liu’s follow-up to The Three-Body Problem (first published in English in 2014 and selected as a Hugo and Nebula Award Finalist), and is the second book in his THREE BODY apocalyptic SF trilogy (which was already published in China back in 2010).  It took a while for the series to gain enough popularity in China to catch the attention of US publishers, but since the first book was released last year, major newspapers like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post have all published favorable feature articles because Chinese SF is a very rare and unknown commodity in the Western world.

The Three-Body Problem was an original blend of mystery, particle physics, global politics, v... Read More

Falling in Love with Hominids: A mixed bag by a gifted, playful writer

Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

Falling in Love with Hominids takes its name from a Cordwainer Smith passage. In her introduction, Nalo Hopkinson cites him as a refuge and a comfort during difficult times in her life. The anthology contains 17 stories. Several are short and probably qualify as flash fiction. Generally, Hopkinson writes the kinds of stories I like, and Falling in Love with Hominids includes fantasy, dark fantasy and outright horror, often incorporating folklore and a style of writing that evokes Jamaican oral story-telling language.

Jana read Falling in Love with Hominids, too. What did you think, Jana? (I'll put Jana's comments in blue text.)
Read More

Film: The War of the Gargantuas

The War of the Gargantuas: Battle of the Gargantuas Versions

Up until recently, I was probably the only baby-boomer fan of Japanese monster movies ("kaiju-eiga," I believe they're called) who had never seen the 1966 Ishiro Honda cult favorite The War of the Gargantuas. Though the film had been lauded by numerous friends and coworkers, and though I have read many good things about it over the years, it has taken me all these many decades to catch up with it. And now that I HAVE finally seen it, I am not sure how to go about writing these comments, as no less than three versions of the film seem to exist! I have just watched the original Japanese print with English subtitles from 1966, as well as the 1970 English version with added sequences, different music, new translations and a re-edited story line, and find much to criticize and commend in both. (There is also a straight English dub of the 1966 version, too, it seems.) Unlike 1965's Fran... Read More

The Royal Ranger: A satisfying end to RANGER’S APPRENTICE

The Royal Ranger by John Flanagan

The Royal Ranger is the twelfth and final book in John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series for younger readers. Originally book ten, The Emperor of Nihon-Ja, was supposed to be the last book — it wrapped up everyone’s stories nicely — but Flanagan decided to give us one more novel that takes place a few years later. I’m glad he did, since I thought The Emperor of Nihon-Ja was a weak installment.

I suspect that some fans of the series won’t appreciate some of what Flanagan did in The Royal Ranger, put personally, I loved it. Here’s what some fans won’t like: Flanagan gave us an “everyone lives happily ever after” ending with The Emperor of Nihon-Ja... Read More

Cthuthlu Fhtagn!: Variety is the spice of the Elder Gods

Cthuthlu Fhtagn! edited by Ross Lockhart

Usually, I shy away from reviewing books whose name I can’t pronounce. Since this title is in the language of the Elder Gods, though, it’s probably better that I can’t pronounce it. Aklo, H.P. Lovecraft’s mystical language, was never meant for human voices to speak anyway, as editor Ross Lockhart explains in his introduction. Lockhart also informs us that the meaning of “Fhtagn” was given to him in a dream (presumably by the Old Ones) and it means “house.” Anyway, Cthuhlu Fhtagn! is the third Cthulhu-themed anthology Word Horde has done, and Lockhart is now getting mystical information while he sleeps… I’d keep an eye on him, if I were you.

Cthulhu Fhtagn!
has 19 stories. Many, but not all, do involve buildings;... Read More

The Lost Stories: Fun episodes from RANGER’S APPRENTICE

The Lost Stories by John Flanagan

The Lost Stories, book 11 in John Flanagan’s RANGER APPRENTICE series for young readers, is a collection of short stories that fill in some gaps and give us supplemental information about Flanagan’s characters and world. The collection begins with a short frame story which takes place in July 1896 in the Republic of Aralan States which was formerly the medieval Kingdom of Araluen. An archaeologist and his assistant are excavating a site and looking for evidence of Castle Redmont and the Rangers of Araluen. They find a chest full of manuscripts that contain these tales:

“Death of a Hero” — (Takes place about 15 years before The Ruins of Gorlan.) Pauline has convinced Halt to finally tell Will the truth about Will’s parents, whi... Read More

Horrible Monday: The Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill

The Mist in the Mirror: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill

The beginning of The Mist in the Mirror is lovely, evocative of turn-of-the century London and the surrounding English countryside. I felt like Susan Hill had been there and merely transcribed her experiences:
It was early afternoon but already the light was fading and darkness drawing in. A chill wind sneaked down alleyways and passages off the river. The houses were grimy, shiny and black-roofed with rain, mean and poor and ugly, and regularly interspersed with more, looming, sheds. The air was filled with the hooting of tugs and a plaintive siren, and there was the constant thump of boxes onto the wharves.
If that doesn't set the mood for you, then nothing surely will.

All of the required spooky set pieces are on full display in this tale: a pale, dirty boy of roughly thirteen years who appears when there is trouble and... Read More

“Thief:” Gen’s childhood escapades

“Thief!” by Megan Whalen Turner

Readers who (like me) are fond of Megan Whalen Turner’s THE QUEEN’S THIEF fantasy series, and who mourn the length of time between publication of her novels, can ease their pain just a little with the short story “Thief!,” originally published in August 2000 in Disney Adventures Magazine and now posted on her website. “Thief!” is a prequel to The Thief, the first book in this series. It’s a brief adventure in the life of young Gen, who begins to develop his thieving abilities at a young age. As readers of the series are aware, Gen’s childhood was marked by frequent run-ins with his numerous cousins. Young Gen has stolen some valuable gold, c... Read More

The Unnoticeables: Inventive, disturbing, funny and a little sparse

The Unnoticeables by Robert Brockway

There was a lot I liked in Robert Brockway’s urban fantasy novel The Unnoticeables. Starting with the most superficial elements first, I loved this cover. Tor went ironic, giving The Unnoticeables a highly noticeable cover. It’s venom green, a mashup of gearwheel-eyed killer clowns, fractals, figure-ground images and spiky-Mohawked punks. It’s disturbing and kind of funny, thus the perfect cover for Brockways’s novel. The Unnoticeables is the first in a series.

The core idea of The Unnoticeables is inventive and scary. Beings of light called “angels” regulate the universe by reallocating energy. Angels are generally unhappy with how inefficiently humans utilize energy, due to our cumbersome program coding (for “coding” read “selves”). Angels really like to... Read More

City of the Chasch: Finally! PLANET OF ADVENTURE on audio!

City of the Chasch by Jack Vance

City of the Chasch (1968) is the first book in Jack Vance’s PLANET OF ADVENTURE series. I’m so excited that Blackstone Audio is finally getting these produced in audio format! City of the Chasch was just released a few weeks ago and the following books, Servants of the Wankh, The Dirdir, and The Pnume, will be released in the next three months (one per month).

In this first book we meet Adam Reith, a scout on a spaceship that traveled from Earth to the planet Carina 4269 from which some sort of signal has been detected. When Adam is sent out on a shuttle to reconnoiter the planet, the spaceship and its crew is shot down and Adam crash-lands, leaving him alone an... Read More

Armada: Fun tribute to Last Starfighter, Ender’s Game, and Star Wars

Armada by Ernest Cline

Armada is the sophomore effort from Ernest Cline, who burst onto the SF scene with the wildly-popular Ready Player One, a fun-filled romp through 80s pop culture via a virtual reality game that managed to skillfully depict a dystopian future and also be a rollicking adventure and coming-of-age tale. The secret to Ready Player One’s success was that you could still enjoy it without catching every obscure geek reference, but many readers who grew up in the 80s absolutely loved it.

There’s an old adage about “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” so it makes perfect sense for Ernest Cline to go back to the well for another bucketful of nerdy 80s gamer trivia and ladle on generous... Read More

Only Ever Yours: Disturbing dystopia with a feminist twist

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

Imagine a world where women are not born but created. ‘eves’ exist purely to become the perfect companions of men. They are raised in The School by a group of women called chastities, where they can take one of three routes: become a companion (the perfect Stepford wife), a concubine (existing solely for the extra-marital pleasures of men) or a chastity.

Only Ever Yours follows the story of sixteen-year-old freida (and note the lower case; only men are referred to with capital letters). She has spent twelve long years being ranked against her classmates — fellow eves — not for her grades (eves can’t read) but for her beauty. freida has gone to bed hungry every night, eaten kcal blockers after every meal, even taken pills to make her throw up after she’s over-indulged. All of it has been in preparation for ‘The Ceremony,’ where the eves will either be cho... Read More

The Getaway God: A return to classic Sandman Slim

The Getaway God by Richard Kadrey

People are bailing out of LA in droves. It’s Christmas. The city is flooding. An apocalypse is happening, and Sandman Slim’s girlfriend, Candy, is reverting to her predatory Jade nature. The Angra Om Ya, who were the original gods of this reality before they lost it to a confidence-trickster god, are returning, and they aren’t happy. The Golden Vigil, a government-angelic partnership, has begun rounding up supernatural beings and putting them in concentration camps. For James Stark, the half-nephilim arena-fighter and former CEO of Hell, known as Sandman Slim, it’s basically just another Tuesday.

The Getaway God by Richard Kadrey is the sixth SANDMAN SLIM story. As the series has progressed, Kadrey has taken some scenic detours, as he did in ... Read More

The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold: Generally inventive, with some flaws

The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold by Peter V. Brett

Since I’m unfamiliar with the works of Peter V. Brett, The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold seemed like a smart place for me to start. The two novellas of the title, along with some “deleted scenes” and a Ward Grimoire, gave me a very clear view of Brett’s style and a glimpse of the greater universe of the DEMON CYCLE series. While I was fascinated by the rune-warding system and the varieties of demons, the action scenes were clunky, and some of the world-building elements were disappointing.“Brayan’s Gold,” the first novella, takes place when Arlen of Tibbet’s Brook is sixteen years old and still an apprentice Messenger. (Messengers are entrusted with the secure transport of goods or letters between settlements.) He’s got a brand-new su... Read More

The Battle for Skandia: The enemy of my enemy…

The Battle for Skandia by John Flanagan

As usual, since The Battle for Skandia is book four in John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series, you should expect spoilers for the previous books: The Ruins of Gorlan, The Burning Bridge, and The Icebound Land.

At the end of The Icebound Land, we left Will and Princess Cassandra hiding out in a cabin in the woods during winter in Skandia after they escaped from slavery. Cassandra has been nursing Will back to health for weeks. Now things are starting to thaw and they must leave before hunters arrive. Right away, though, Cassandra is captured by some Temujai warriors. (We haven’t heard of these folks before which, in my mind, may indicate that Flan... Read More

Redshirts: Fun metafiction for SF fans, but not worthy of a Hugo Award

Redshirts by John Scalzi

I take it you all know Star Trek, Deep Space Nine, Red Dwarf, etc. Have you seen Galaxy Quest? Stranger than Fiction? Saturday Night Live? Well, if you just throw them all together with a paper-thin plot, interchangeable characters, snarky dialogue that’s pretty funny, absolutely zero physical descriptions, and three codas featuring minor characters that try to shift the story’s tone, and you’ve got John Scalzi’s Redshirts.

Sounds like poorly edited, slapdash fiction written for a loyal, unquestioning fanbase? Not at all, this is META fiction, so anything that seems lazy, clichéd, or nonsensical is actually SUPPOSED TO BE, ‘cause this is META fiction that is ridiculing such poor writing and tired genre tropes. Get it? So clever... Read More

EDGE: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

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.

The Book of Speculation, by Erika Swyler, is one of those perplexing novels I come across now and then where the book has everything I would usually lap up as a reader, but for some reason it falls just a little flat, resulting in a book that is "good enough," but falls short of the great read I would normally have expected.

In this case, the specific enticing novelistic elements are: a book within a book, a traveling carnival/circus, a non-linear structure, a main character who is a librarian and another who deals in old books, a quir... Read More

Hominids: What if Neanderthals survived on a parallel Earth?

Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer

In Robert J. Sawyer’s Hominids, Ponter, a theoretical physicist who specializes in quantum mechanics, accidently transports to a parallel Earth. Incredibly, Ponter realizes, on this world, his fellow Neanderthals went extinct.

Although it features creatures traveling between dimensions or planets, Hominids is not about invasion or war. Instead, Ponter spends most of his time in Canada talking to doctors who do their best to keep him away from the media. The government does not get involved because most people are skeptical that Ponter is a Neanderthal. Ponter’s doctors therefore invite Mary Vaughan, a geneticist, to fly in and to run some tests. Sadly, we meet Mary just as she is raped on her way home from the lab. Distraught, she decides to leav... Read More

Igraine the Brave: A sweet feminist children’s story

Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke

After finishing The Thief Lord, my daughter and I wanted to read more Cornelia Funke (pronounced “FOONK-ah”) so we picked up Igraine the Brave, a short novel that we listened to in audio format.

Igraine is a 12 year old girl who lives in a castle complete with a moat, drawbridge, stone lions and gargoyles, and lots of spiders (Igraine hates spiders). Her parents are famous magicians and her older brother is training with them. Igraine has no use for magic, though. She wants to be a knight. She gets her chance when her parents accidentally turn themselves into pigs just as the castle is under siege by enemy forces. The only way to turn her parents back into humans so they can protect the castle with their magic spells, is to make a potion t... Read More

Fiendish Schemes: Delightfully droll

Fiendish Schemes by K.W. Jeter

Fiendish Schemes is a recent (2013) sequel to K.W. Jeter’s classic steampunk novel Infernal Devices which I have previously reviewed. Jeter, who inadvertently coined the term “steampunk” and writes in a style similar to his friend James P. Blaylock, is probably an acquired taste. Personally, I love his droll overblown style, his eccentric and morose characters who tend to be paranoid and suicidal, and his absurd plots. If you’re a fan of Blaylock, Jack Vance Read More