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Vulcan’s Hammer: Minor Dick, but still very entertaining

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Vulcan’s Hammer by Philip K. Dick

According to Philip K. Dick authority Lawrence Sutin, in his well-researched biography Divine Invasions, by 1959, although Dick had already had some 85 short stories as well as half a dozen novels published, his interest in creating more sci-fi had reached a low point. The future Hugo winner was at this point hoping to become more of a mainstream author, having by this time already written nine such novels, none of which had been published … yet. Still, with bills to pay, a wife (his third of an eventual five) to support, and his first child on the way, economic necessities did, it seem, perforce drive him back, unenthusiastically, to the sci-fi realm. Tw... Read More

Mixed Magics: A short story anthology for Chrestomanci fans

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Mixed Magics by Diana Wynne Jones

Mixed Magics (2000) is comprised of four short stories set in the fantasy worlds of Diana Wynne Jones's CHRESTOMANCI; an enchanter responsible for the proper use of magic wielded by the various witches, warlocks, sorcerers and enchanters prevalent throughout his world (and several others). Although the stories are readable enough by themselves, filled with Wynne Jones's trademark humour and originality, it's best if you're already familiar with her previous work in the series, these tales being filled with plenty of in-jokes and cameo appearances.

It starts off lightly with "Warlock at the Wheel", concerning a hapless warlock who inadvertently kidnaps a little girl and her dog after he steals a car. The most humorous ... Read More

Survival Game: Played out across multiple universes

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Survival Game by Gary Gibson

Humankind has a weird fascination with its own demise. It's the reason apocalyptic fiction has been a staple for decades. You've read zombie apocalypse, imminent meteor, killer virus stories a million times, so the real challenge now is finding an interesting way to explore said demise. Gary Gibson's take on the genre is surprisingly refreshing in the second instalment of his APOCALYPSE DUOLOGY series, The Survival Game.

We first meet Katya Orlova as she is jumping off a train. She is a scientist working for the Russian Empire, but due to her knowledge of alternate worlds, she has been blackmailed into obtaining an item that will grant the Tsar new life. This item is the Hypersphere: an artefact which allows the user to move be... Read More

Eternal Frankenstein: A Frankenstein horror story for practically everybody

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Eternal Frankenstein edited by Ross Lockhart

Eternal Frankenstein (2016) asks horror writers to imagine, or reimagine, the life of Mary Shelley’s infamous doctor and his “creature.” The book includes 16 stories, all of them original to this anthology, with one that appeared in a different form in the publication Perihelion.

Make no mistake, these are horror stories. Some may glance at science fiction, and some flirt with fantasy, but their primary purpose is to scare us, or make us uncomfortable as we read, and this collection succeeds at that.

The story that succeeded the best for me, because I felt the horror on multiple levels, was “Post Partum,” by Betty Rocksteady. The first-person n... Read More

Shadows of Self: A breezy weird Western romp

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

Bill: Let’s see, last week in September. That means I’ve got to grade my first-years’ first essays. Call the guy to clean the gutters. Make sure the furnace and gas fireplace are set to go. And, oh yeah, it’s been a month, that must mean I have a new Brandon Sanderson novel to review. Yep, Shadows of Self, the second book in his second MISTBORN trilogy (or, if you prefer, the fifth book in the entire MISTBORN series). Apparently it’s due out in two weeks, which means I better get on this now or the third book will be out before I review the second (I swear, if Brandon Sanderson and Joyce Carol Oates ever had a child, their love child would be a high-speed printing press).

Interestingly... Read More

Spellbreaker: An imaginative and challengingly complex fantasy

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Spellbreaker by Blake Charlton

If someone is offering to sell you a spell that predicts one hour into the future, one excellent way to test whether the spell really works is to try to murder the man selling it to you. If you succeed in killing him, clearly it wasn’t a valid prophetic spell. In any case, that’s Leandra Weal’s rationale for poisoning the blackrice liqueur she offers to the smuggler selling her the spell. Luckily for both Leandra and the smuggler, the spell warns the smuggler not to drink the puffer fish liver-infused drink. Unfortunately, once Leandra tries the spell, making a small spelling adjustment to allow her to see twenty-four hours into the future, she sees that she will either have to murder someone she loves or die herself. If she tries to run or avoid the prophecy, everyone she loves will suddenly die.

With this compelling start, Spellbreaker Read More

Unquiet Land: A redemptive story of parental love

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Unquiet Land by Sharon Shinn

In Unquiet Land, Sharon Shinn’s fourth book in her ELEMENTAL BLESSINGS fantasy series, the story returns to the country of Welce, the setting for the first two books in this series. Leah, who was introduced to readers in the third book, Jeweled Fire, lived in the country of Malinqua for five years, helping Darien Serlast, the ruler of Welce, by acting as a spy and, for the last few months of her stay, keeping an protective eye on the princess Corene, who was on an extended visit with the ruling family of Malinqua. More to the point, at the time Leah was running away from personal issues in her life: a lover who deserted her when she told him she was pregnant, and ... Read More

The Chemist: The torturous path of revenge and love

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The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer

Stephenie Meyer changes it up fairly dramatically in The Chemist (2016), her second adult novel, where there is nary a vampire, werewolf or space alien to be found. It’s a rather pulpy but absorbing thriller in the vein of a Jason Bourne novel (to whom she’s dedicated this novel, among others). There’s no real speculative element here, other than perhaps some new developments in chemical-based torture and some startlingly smart dogs.

The narrator, a bright, rather repressed molecular biologist, was originally hired by a nameless government agency to do cutting-edge medical research, but ended up being pressured to use her medical skills to create biological compounds that cause severe pain without permanent physical damage, and then... Read More

A Taste for Monsters: Strong characterization and premise but plotting a bit pale

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A Taste for Monsters by Matthew Kirby

Matthew Kirby’s first two books, The Clockwork Three and Icefall are, I think, two of the best constructed and ambitious YA books out there. I haven’t been equally impressed with the ones since, though they still show marks of a fine craftsman in various aspects. Where then does his latest, A Taste for Monsters, fall? I’d say somewhere in between — better than the last few thanks to more vivid characters, a fine sense of the macabre, and deft handling of suspense; but not rising to the level of the first ones due to so... Read More

Wrath of Betty: Has its issues, but will still make you laugh (and think)

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Wrath of Betty by Steven Erikson

If you’re going to parody a TV series, as Steven Erikson did with Star Trek in Willful Child, then you can’t stop at just one book, can you? Think of all those other episodes ripe for the plucking! And so we’re back for more interstellar hijinks with the crew of the Starship Willful Child and their erstwhile leader Captain James T--, er, Captain Hadrian Sawbuck as they face hostile aliens, robots run Amok, Time (see what I did there?) travel, hostility from their own Federation, and perhaps most dangerous of all, rampant consumerism. The laughs come at warp speed, making Wrath of Betty a mostly successful mission, though as I noted in my review... Read More

Chapel of Ease: A romantic ghost story

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Chapel of Ease by Alex Bledsoe

I love that each of the novels in Alex Bledsoe’s TUFA series can stand alone. They are all set (at least partly) in the same area of Appalachia and have overlapping characters, but they each tell a self-contained story. They can be read in any order, though it would probably be ideal to read them in publication order: The Hum and the Shiver, Wisp of a Thing, Long Black Curl and now, Chapel of Ease (2016).

Chapel of ... Read More

The Purloined Poodle: Oberon solves a mystery

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The Purloined Poodle by Kevin Hearne

If you haven’t been reading Kevin Hearne’s IRON DRUID CHRONICLES series, you are really missing out. These are fun fantasy adventures featuring a cool modern-day druid named Atticus and his canine familiar, an Irish Wolfhound named Oberon, possibly the most awesome sidekick in all of fantasy literature.

Everyone loves Oberon, so it’s not surprising that Hearne would spawn a series (called OBERON’S MEATY MYSTERIES) that gives Oberon center stage. As the name of the series implies, these are fantasy mysteries and the first one, a novella, is called The Purloined Poodle. You do not need to be familiar with the IRON DRUID CHRONICLES to enjoy The Purloined Poodle Read More

Neverwhere: Wonderfully fantastical setting

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Richard Mayhew has a life that most men would envy: He’s got a good job, a nice apartment in London, and he’s about to be married to a beautiful wealthy woman. But when he stops to help a girl (named Door) in the street, Richard soon finds that he’s slipped through the cracks into Neverwhere: a magical and frightening underground London that people like Richard never knew existed. How could he have known that his Random Act of Kindness would ruin everything? And, most importantly, how can he get his old life back?

Neil Gaiman rarely fails to amuse me with his creative concepts, quirky humor, and over-the-top villains, and Neverwhere (1997), the novelization of his BBC television program of the same name, has all that. What it doesn’t have is a tight and gripping p... Read More

Congress of Secrets: Fast-paced fantasy romance swirling with political intrigue

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Congress of Secrets by Stephanie Burgis

In 1814, the four countries that defeated Napoleon Bonaparte held a congress in Vienna, determined to establish a new balance of power among the European nations. It was a contentious congress filled with intrigue and realpolitik, but at least those real-life diplomats and leaders weren’t contending with shadowy magic, the way Stephanie Burgis’ characters are in her alternate history fantasy Congress of Secrets (2016).

Lady Caroline Wyndham, a wealthy British widow, has come to Vienna, merely to observe the historical undertaking... and perhaps, she’s hinted, offer a little money to the Austrian treasury. In reality, Caroline’s mission is very different; it’s deeply personal and very dangerous. Caroline isn’t even h... Read More

The Shadow Soul: Our SPFBO winner is a solid YA fantasy

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The Shadow Soul by Kaitlyn Davis

The Shadow Soul came in first place of the 30 books that our Fantasy Literature team of reviewers read for Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO), in which 300 self-published science fiction and fantasy novels have been read and evaluated by ten blogs. The winner of the very first round, it managed to survive and prevail over all of the rest of the novels in our later rounds. A round of virtual but heartfelt applause to The Shadow Soul and its author, Kaitlyn Davis!

As the story begins, Jinji is a sixteen year old girl preparing for her formal joining in marriage to Maniuk, a future leader of their small Arpapajo tribe, along with Jin... Read More

The Perdition Score: That is one shocking ending!

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The Perdition Score by Richard Kadrey

James Stark, AKA Sandman Slim, is making another effort to be more like a “regular” human being. He has left the arena in Hell behind and is working for the Sub Rosa, the clandestine magical community in Los Angeles. His girlfriend Chihiro works for a detective agency and is learning to play surf guitar. Stark has a salary, a 401(k) and even health benefits; but he is dissatisfied and only violence seems to provide satisfaction.

(This review contains a mild spoiler for readers who may not have read Killing Pretty, the previous Sandman Slim novel.)

The Perdition Score is the 8th Sandman Slim novel. Author Richard Kadrey has taken Stark through various mutations in these stories; in this on... Read More

Baptism of Fire: The story does not progress, but entertains us nonetheless

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Baptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapkowski

Baptism of Fire is the fifth book in Andrzej Sapkowski’s WITCHER series. It starts up immediately after the events in The Time of Contempt, which you must read before picking up Baptism of Fire. This review will contain spoilers for previous books.

Previously, in The Time of Contempt, Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri got caught up in a coup on the island of Thanedd. The Chapter of Mages was destroyed as the sorcerers and sorceresses were either killed or otherwise dispersed. Geralt was defeated and sev... Read More

The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred: An SF spin on the Trolley Problem

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The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred by Greg Egan

Subterranean Press is one of my favorite publishers because they’re always putting out distinctive speculative fiction that’s beautifully packaged. I especially appreciate the many novellas they publish because I am often in the mood for shorter works these days and novellas give me the opportunity to read authors whose stories I might not otherwise have time for.

The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred (2016) is Greg Egan’s recent science fiction novella about a woman named Anna who directs the spaceport on the asteroid Ceres. Ceres is being inundated with refugees from Vesta, an asteroid habitat that is in political upheaval. When Vesta demands that Ceres stop harboring its fleeing citizens, and then threatens to stop t... Read More

The Hammer of Thor: It’s Hammer Time in the Nine Worlds

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The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan

The god Thor has lost his hammer again, but this time it’s even worse: the giant Thrym has gotten hold of it and has hidden it away where no one else can reach it. If the hammer isn’t returned to Thor quickly, enemies of Asgard will take advantage of their weakness and attack, triggering Ragnarok, the battle at the end of the world, and bringing massive death and destruction in the Nine Worlds.

Loki the trickster, who has been chained up by the other gods as punishment for his misdeeds, visits Magnus Chase in a dream (Loki gets around pretty well in dreamland). He tells Magnus that he’s worked out a deal to get Thor’s hammer back: all Magnus has to do is bring Thrym a certain bride for a wedding in five days, along with the bride-price, and Thrym will give back the hammer as his wedding gift.

There are just a few problems with thi... Read More

Zoe’s Tale: “The Last Colony” from Zoe’s perspective

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi

Zoe’s Tale (2008), the fourth book in John Scalzi’s OLD MAN’S WAR series, is the same story we were told in book three, The Last Colony, except it’s from Zoe’s perspective. Zoe is the 17-year-old daughter of the traitorous scientist Charles Boutin. Jane Sagan and John Perry adopted Zoe when she was a small child and they’ve been farming on one of Earth’s colonies for years. Now, though, the family is off to lead the settlers of a new colony called Roanoke (uh-oh). When they get there they realize they’ve been duped and life on Roanoke has a lot more going on than just terraforming a new planet.

While I was reading The Last Colony there were several times I wondered “what’s Zoe doing?” or “what does Zoe think about this?” or even “i... Read More

The Time of Contempt: This story is getting darker

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The Time of Contempt by Andrzej Sapkowski

The fourth installment in Andrzej Sapkowski’s popular WITCHER series is The Time of Contempt (1995 in Polish, 2013 in English) which begins immediately after the ending of the previous novel, Blood of Elves. (You must read the previous stories before beginning this book and you do not need to be a fan of the Witcher video games.)

War is imminent as the elves of Nilfgaard, an ancient kingdom that was displaced centuries ago by the humans who now control the northern land, begin to plan their revenge. The kings of the northern kingdoms no longer trust the sorcerers and sorceresses they used to employ and haven broken off relationships with them. Even the sorcerers themselves are (rig... Read More

The Last Colony: John Perry is back

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

The Last Colony by John Scalzi

The Last Colony, the third book in John Scalzi’s OLD MAN’S WAR series, returns us to the perspective of John Perry, the “old man” hero of the first novel in the series, Old Man’s War. John Perry is only mentioned in the second novel, The Ghost Brigades, which told the story of how the cyborg Special Forces soldiers found and defeated the scientist Charles Boutin, a traitor to the Colonial Union. On that mission they also found Zoe, Boutin’s young daughter. Zoe has been adopted by Jane Sagan and John Perry and the little family has been farming on one of Earth’s colonies where John and Jane are the leaders.

Life is easy for them until the Colonial Union comes calling — they need leaders for a new colonization effort and John and Jane h... Read More

Treachery’s Tools: Satisfying for a fan of the series

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Treachery’s Tools by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

It’s always a surprise when a fantasy novel can carry real meaning in depicting modern issues. Things like pride, avarice and jealousy that can be pervasive in certain segments of the social structure of a modern world can be so powerfully demonstrated when people use swords and magic to actually kill each. L.E. Modesitt Jr.’s Treachery’s Tools was able to provoke those comparisons for me.

When last we left Alastar he had successfully stood off a revolt by High Holders against the Rex of Solidar and the attempted obliteration of the Imager’s Collegium. While many of the participants in this violent confrontation paid with their lives, some managed to avoid paying the ultimate price and slunk into exile. One might have hoped... Read More

The Rains: An original zombie novel where teenagers take centre stage

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The Rains by Gregg Hurwitz

The once-trusted adults of Creek's Cause have turned into zombies. Asteroid 9918 Darwinia has hit the small town, and in one terrifying night, no one under eighteen is safe any more. Chance Rain and his brother Patrick find themselves pitted against a town full of zombies after their aunt and uncle turn. And what's more, it's looking like the infection will spread further than Creek's Cause if they don't do something to warn the rest of the world.

Zombie novels are by no means a new concept, but Gregg Hurwitz adds an innovative and fresh spin to his addition to the genre. First off, The Rains reads more like a sci-fi novel than a horror, and the addition of YA elements makes for the perfect mix. The asteroid and the spores that infect adults are seemingly alien, and it seems the zombies — or Hosts, as our protagonist ... Read More

The Annihilation Score: I like the different point-of-view character

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The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross

The Annihilation Score (2016), by Charles Stross, is the sixth book in his LAUNDRY FILES series. Stross has hit on an interesting way to keep a series from flagging. He created a super-secret agency that fights extra-normal entities and events, and by doing this, he has a stable of characters who can take the lead in given books. Most of the LAUNDRY FILES books I’ve read featured Bob Howard as the main character, although there were other POV characters. The Annihilation Score has Dominique O’Brien, Howard’s estranged wife, as the main character.

This review contains mild spoilers for the previous book, Read More