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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

Film review: The Giant Behemoth

The Giant Behemoth: Beast vs. behemoth

It had been many decades since I last saw The Giant Behemoth. When I was a kid, I had always grown restless with the film, largely because director/co-screenwriter Eugene Lourie withholds a good, establishing glimpse of the titular creature until the picture is almost 2/3 over; an interminable amount of time for an impatient youth who just wants to see a freakin' monster. As I plopped the DVD in recently, my one thought was, would I be as restless as an adult? Behemoth, of course, was the second in Lourie's loose dinosaur trilogy. In the first film, 1953's classic, superb, artful and trendsetting The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Lourie, with the assistance of stop-motion wizard Ray Harryhausen, and working from a short story by Ray Bradbury, had given to the world the template for all thawed-out-dinos... Read More

The Queen of Air and Darkness and Other Stories: Well-written but overstuffed

The Queen of Air and Darkness and Other Stories by Poul Anderson

Short story anthologies tend to be difficult to review, mostly because it’s hard to come up with a cohesive theme to discuss when the stories can be so diverse in quality and in tone. Fortunately for me, Poul Anderson seems to have gone out of his way in this little collection to ensure that any reviewer had no such problems here. The stories are actually remarkably similar in setting, tone, and theme. They also share much the same flaws. So while I will deal with the stories individually, I can also discuss them in general.

Each story in the collection is planetary romance of some description. Anderson apparently doesn’t buy into warp drives or wormholes, so voyages across the stars are always slow and expensive. In each story, humans establish colonies on some ... Read More

The Shadow Throne: Engaging, but too many doldrums

The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler

Book two in Django Wexler’s THE SHADOW CAMPAIGNS series, The Shadow Throne sees our heroes Janus bet Vhalnich, Winter Ihernglass, and Marcus d’Iviore return to the capital of Vordan, Vordan City, upon hearing of the king’s dire illness. Confined to his sickbed, the king promotes Janus to Minister of Justice, who then places Marcus in command of the city guard. As Janus works to promote the independence of Vordan from foreign influence and establish the power of the monarchy, a supporter of Hamveltai control in the nation, the Last Duke and Vordan’s spymaster Orlanko, seems to be watching Janus’s every move and actively working to foiling his maneuvers. After the grueling campaigns overseas, can Marcus, Winter, and Janus emerge victorious in the cutthroat politics of V... Read More

Film Review: The Neanderthal Man

The Neanderthal Man: Inspector Henderson goes ape

For those viewers who are wondering if actor Robert Shayne ever incarnated another role besides that of Inspector Henderson on TV's Adventures of Superman, a quick skim of his IMDb credits will reveal the answer to be a most definitive "yes." Besides playing the part of the tough-talking best friend of Clark Kent with ever-increasing frequency on that show, which ran from 1952 - '58, Shayne, it seems, has dozens upon dozens of film and TV appearances to his credit. But those fans who would like to see Shayne as the top-billed, leading-man star of a theatrically exhibited motion picture should be made aware of The Neanderthal Man, which was released by United Artists in June 1953. Despite its DVD availability today via an outfit known as Cheezy Flicks, the picture — minor  entertainment though it might be — is yet intelligently scripted, well shot, and finely acted by its la... Read More

Raven’s Strike: A solid sequel

Raven’s Strike by Patricia Briggs

Patricia Briggs’ second novel in her RAVEN DUOLOGY, Raven’s Strike, picks up where the last novel leaves off. Seraph and her family have been reunited and are back on their way toward Redern, eager to get to the bottom of the mystery that presented itself during Tier’s captivity in Taela, the capital. Namely, what does The Path, the new religion developing in the septs, have to do with Traveler’s Orders? And why are so many ordered Travelers dying, and what is happening to their powers?

This book gives us a more in-depth introduction to new characters, as well. Phoran, the Emporer, is a frightened young man when we meet him in Raven’s Shadow. Here, he has developed a backbone and has decided to accompany Tier and Seraph on t... Read More

The Graveyard Book: Raised by ghosts in a London graveyard

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman’s 2008 novel The Graveyard Book really racked up the awards, winning the British Carnegie Medal and American Newbery Medal for the best children’s book of the year, and then more surprisingly, the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Novel and Locus Award for Best YA Book. For years I have heard Gaiman’s name for various books like Stardust (which was a great film), Neverwhere, Anansi Boys, and American Gods (2002 winner of the Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, BSFA, World Fantasy, British Fantasy awards), not to mention the legendary Sandman series of graphic novels. So I figured I really needed to get with the times and read his work.

The story itself i... Read More

Raven’s Shadow: A fun, easy read with good worldbuilding

Raven’s Shadow by Patricia Briggs

Patricia Briggs’ novel Raven’s Shadow begins with a rescue and a romance. Tier, a Rederni ex-soldier, saves young Seraph, a Traveler girl, from murder at the hands of some ruffians in a tavern and a strange, dangerous man in the forest. Intrigued by this brave, foolhardy girl, Tier takes her home to his village to protect her from the forces that follow. Travelers are Briggs’ answer to Patrick Rothfuss’ Edema Ruh or Robert Jordan’s Tuatha’an... you know, your typical “gypsy” stereotype that seems to pop up in most high fantasy novels with lots of worldbuilding. In Raven’s Shadow, they are known for their innat... Read More

Use of Weapons: A dark and brooding tale of warfare, manipulation and guilt

Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks

Use of Weapons (1990) is the third published novel in Banks’ Culture series, although it is actually a rewrite of a draft written much earlier that the author claims "was impossible to comprehend without thinking in six dimensions." Well, for readers who generally dwell in just three or four dimensions, the narrative structure of Use of Weapons is fairly complex until you get used to it.

The story has two narrative tracks, one set in the present and moving forward in time (Chapter 1, 2, 3, etc), and a second track set in the past and moving backwards in time (VIII, VII, VI, etc). Both tracks focus on Cheradenine Zakalwe, a man skilled in warfare and military tactics who is recruited by a Culture agent from Special Circumstances, Diziet Sma, to be a military operative in various non-Culture societies and conflicts.

For readers of th... Read More

The Arctic Code:  A fast-paced middle-grade novel with some issues

The Arctic Code by Matthew Kirby

Matthew Kirby’s newest release, The Arctic Code, is the first book in a new MG/YA science fiction series entitled THE DARK GRAVITY SEQUENCE. Unlike some of his prior books, like The Clockwork Three and Icefall (two of my favorite reads those respective years), this one is more fully an MG work, in that it lacks that adult crossover appeal and even older, more sophisticated younger readers will find themselves questioning some of the logic of events or wishing for some more depth of character. Its target audience, however, will mostly (I guess) respond well to its fast pace, frequent tension, and especially Eleanor, the impulsive hero at the heart of the story.

The setting is a near-future Earth undergoing the b... Read More

Film Review: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

“I need a woman ‘bout twice my height, statuesque, raven-tressed, a goddess of the night.”

By the time future baby-boomer classic Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (the lack of a hyphen in the title is annoying) was released in May 1958, moviegoers in theatres and drive-ins across the U.S. had already been exposed to all sorts of radiation-induced terrors. Jump-started by the prehistoric rhedosaurus unleashed by atomic testing in 1952's The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, the trend was soon followed by another prehistoric radioactive nightmare, Gojira, and then the real onslaught began: giant ants in Them!, a giant octopus in It Came From Beneath the Sea, a giant arachnid in Tarantula, more giant insects in Beginning of the End, The Deadly Mantis and The Black Scorpion, giant mollusks in The Monster That Challenged ... Read More

Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess: The novelization works

Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess by Phil & Kaja Foglio

GIRL GENIUS is one of my favorite webcomics. I love both the art and the story. It’s about Agatha Heterodyne, the orphaned genius daughter of two famous “Sparks” who disappeared years ago. After they left, the peace and stability of Europa disintegrated after numerous mad Sparks built and let loose various mechanical constructs that tend to terrorize all the normal people. Many of these Sparks have been vying for power since the Heterodyne Boys (one is Agatha’s father and the other is her uncle) disappeared. Baron Klaus Wulfenbach, a powerful Spark who was once a friend to the legendary Heterodyne Boys, now rules most of Europa, though he’s had to resort to some rather Barbaric methods to get it under control. For years he has been collecting and keeping the children of other famous Sparks and some nobility. These kids live in luxury aboard his airship city... Read More

Consider Phlebas: The first novel in the Culture universe, but not the best

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks

This is Iain M. Banks’ first novel (1987) set in his now famous CULTURE universe, and although it’s a well-written book with lots of clever ideas, I wouldn’t say it’s the best book in the series. Then again, if like many readers you would have feelings of angst and guilt if you were to read the books of a series out of order, then it makes sense to start with this one.

To be very brief, the Culture is a wide-flung galactic civilization in which artificial Minds co-habit with a hundred variants of humanity in a fairly symbiotic relationship, although there is always some sense that the Minds are basically running the show but allow the humans to feel more in control than they really are (like how cats seem to treat their ostensible ‘owners’). In any case, there isn’t much strugg... Read More

The Chapel Perilous: An Atticus origin story

The Chapel Perilous by Kevin Hearne

Kevin Hearne has written several short stories and novellas set in his IRON DRUID CHRONICLES universe. These make a great introduction to the series for new readers and they give fans (like me) a little fix while we wait for the next novel to appear. Who wouldn’t want to spend an hour or two with Atticus O’Sullivan, the world’s oldest druid, and Oberon, his trusty Irish Wolfhound on a lazy afternoon?

“The Chapel Perilous” was originally published in Shawn Speakman’s Unfettered anthology and is now available as a 99₵ ebook. The lovely cover art was painted by Galen Dara. In this story, which is only 33 pages long, and which takes place (or at least the frame of the story does) between Tricked and Trapped Read More

The Monster’s Ring: A quick and breezy Halloween tale

The Monster’s Ring by Bruce Coville

Note: This book is titled Russell Troy, Monster Boy in some markets.

For kids that are too young for the complexity of the HARRY POTTER series, and yet still interested in fantasy stories, Bruce Coville's MAGIC SHOP books might be the thing to hook them up with. Five in total, each one revolves around a simple premise: a young child with the usual kid problems (home trouble, bullies, crushes, angry teachers, etc) stumble across Mr Elives' Magic Shop, and leaves with an unusual purchase which initially creates more trouble for them, but ultimately teaches them important lessons.

They've recently been reissued with new cover art by Tony DiTerl... Read More

The Wrath of Fu Manchu: Final and fun footnotes of Fu

The Wrath of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer

Previously here on FanLit, I placed an article that discussed every one of the 13 Fu Manchu novels that British author Sax Rohmer produced over a period of decades. But there was one Fu book that I did not discuss therein, for the simple reason that it is not a full-length novel, but rather a collection of miscellaneous items. The Wrath of Fu Manchu is the 14th and final book in Rohmer's FU MANCHU series. I refer here to the original DAW publication of 1976, which included four short stories dealing with the good doctor, as well as some other Rohmer stories not related to the series but interesting in their own right. The four Fu stories serve as mere footnotes or codas to the previous 13 novels, but all are intere... Read More

The Fold: Fun for everyone

The Fold by Peter Clines

The Fold, by Peter Clines, is a science fiction thriller with a superhero aspect, a bit of Sherlock Holmes and a bit of H.P. Lovecraft thrown in. It’s got dry humor, plenty of pop-culture references and an engaging main character who can be surprisingly vulnerable. This is a perfect summer read; the ideal vacation book. It’s a book you’ll want to pass along to your friends when you’re done.

Leland “Mike” Erickson teaches high school English in a small town in New England. His life is tranquil and even uneventful, until his college friend Reggie, who works for the Department of Defense, comes for a visit. Reggie is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and his division oversees a project in San Diego called the Albuquerque Door. The scientists running the Door project insist that they can fold space, transporting matter across t... Read More

The Rebirths of Tao: Satisfying conclusion, but I hope there’ll be more

The Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu

Warning: This review contains spoilers for the previous books, The Lives of Tao and The Deaths of Tao. You can’t read The Rebirths of Tao as a stand-alone — you really need to read the previous books first. My review will not spoil The Rebirths of Tao.

The Rebirths of Tao is the third and final book in Wesley Chu’s TAO series about a race of aliens (called the Quasing) who crash-landed on Earth millennia ago and, in an effort to get their spaceships working so they could get back to their home planet, are responsible for the evolution of the human species. They have managed this by possessing the bodies of creatures they found on Earth and guiding their actio... Read More

Voyage of the Basilisk: H. Rider Haggard would clap his hands in glee

Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

What I enjoy most about Marie Brennan’s LADY TRENT MEMOIR series is the narrative voice. Isabella Camherst engages in adventures and feats of derring-do that would have H. Rider Haggard clapping his hands in glee, and they are related in the crisp, slightly sardonic tone of a well-educated and witty Victorian gentlewoman. Voyage of the Basilisk is no exception. The third book of series moves several plot points forward and has Isabella learning new things about dragons and herself.

Isabella’s dry and scientific tone make the dramatic descriptions somehow more plausible. Here she contrasts her personal experience with the “tall tales” common with sailors:
I am not a sa... Read More

SevenEves: You might love this book; I only loved the end

SevenEves by Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson doesn't shy away from big concepts, long timelines, or larger than life events. His most recent novel, SevenEves, begins with the moon blowing up. Readers never find out what blew up the moon, because all too quickly humanity discovers that the Earth will soon be bombarded by a thousand-year rain of meteorites — the remnants of the moon as they collide with each other in space, becoming smaller and smaller — which will turn Earth into an uninhabitable wasteland. Humankind has a 2-year deadline to preserve its cultural legacy and a breeding population. The solution is to make extended life-in-space a possibility. The first two thirds of the book follows a group of astronauts and scientists who are among those who will form the new colony orbiting Earth, waiting a few millennia for it to become habitable again. The last third shows us what has become of humanity after 5,00... Read More

Why Call Them Back From Heaven?: Cold storage

Why Call Them Back From Heaven? by Clifford D. Simak

Although the concept of cryogenically preserving the bodies of the living had been a trope of Golden Age science fiction from the 1930s and onward, it wasn’t until New Jersey-born Robert Ettinger released his hardheaded book on the subject, 1962’s The Prospect of Immortality, that the idea began to be taken seriously. Ettinger would go on to found the Cryonics Institute in Michigan around 15 years later; over 1,300 folks have subscribed to this facility as of 2015, agreeing to pay $30,000 to have themselves turned into human “corpsicles,” and 130 are currently “on ice” there. (And let’s not even discuss Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, whose head is currently in deep freeze at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona!) But getting back to Ettinger’s book: This volume apparently impressed sci-fi author Cliffor... Read More

The Son of Tarzan: A “runaway” success

The Son of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs

At the conclusion of the third Tarzan novel, 1914's The Beasts of Tarzan, the Ape Man's archenemy, Nikolas Rokoff, lies dead (and 3/4 eaten!) beneath the fangs of Tarzan's panther ally, Sheeta. But Rokoff's lieutenant, the equally dastardly Alexis Paulvitch, manages to flee into the African wilderness to escape. Needing to know more, this reader wasted little time diving into book #4, The Son of Tarzan. As it had been with the first two Tarzan sequels, Son initially appeared serially in magazine form, in this case as a six-parter in the pulp periodical All-Story Weekly, from December 1915 - January 1916. It would have to wait another 14 months before being released in hardcover book form.

The novel begins a full decade after the events of book #3, as we see Paulvitch, now a wreck of his former self after... Read More

Swords and Deviltry: The origin stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser

Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber

If you want to read “sword & sorcery” tales, why not go back to the source? Fritz Leiber’s FAFHRD AND THE GRAY MOUSER (LANKHMAR) series was first conceived in the 1930s and the first story “Two Sought Adventure” was published in 1939 in Unknown. For the next two decades he wrote additional stories but it was not until the 1960s that Leiber decided to organize and integrate the stories more closely by ordering them chronologically and added connecting materials and backstories. Therefore, Swords and Deviltry (1970) is the first of the series based on characters’ storyline, but was actually written much later. The seventh and final book, The Knight and Knave of Swords (1988), comes almost 50 years after the init... Read More

The Beasts of Tarzan: Raw lion steaks, anyone?

The Beasts of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs

To celebrate the centennial of Tarzan of the Apes in October 2012 — Edgar Rice Burroughs' first Tarzan novel was released in the October 1912 issue of All-Story Magazine — I  have been compulsively reading the first novels in what eventually became a series of some two dozen books. Book #2, The Return of Tarzan (1913), was a fairly direct sequel to the initial classic outing, while book #3, The Beasts of Tarzan, picks up the tale several years later. This novel originally appeared in serial form in the pages of All-Story Cavalier magazine in 1914 (the popular pulp had debuted in 1905 and would end its run in 1916), with a cover price of ... 10 cents. It made its first book appearance two years lat... Read More

Gate of Ivrel: A seamless blend of science fiction and fantasy

Gate of Ivrel by C.J. Cherryh

Gate of Ivrel is one of C.J. Cherryh’s entries into the science fantasy genre in which we follow the adventures of Vanye, the bastard son of a minor lord in a seemingly medieval world who is cast out for standing up to his oppressive brothers and inadvertently killing one and maiming the other. As he makes his way across the harsh landscape of his world populated by clans who would like nothing more than to end the life of a miserable outlaw he stumbles across a ‘miracle’ in the person of Morgaine: a figure of power and fear out of legend seemingly magically returned and to whom he becomes joined by bonds of duty and obligation. What the reader knows already is that Morgaine is actually an agent from a high-tech society sent to seek out and destroy the many ‘gates’ that were created by the al... Read More