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Aurora: Overly long but powerful

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson, has major issues with pacing, characterization, and to some extent, plotting. Which would seem to make this review a no-brainer “not recommended.” But if one can overlook issues of plot, character, and pace (and granted, that’s a Grand Canyon-level overlook), there’s a lot here to often admire and sometimes enjoy, and a reader who perseveres will, I think, not only be happy they did so, but will also find Aurora lingering in their mind for some time. (Note: While I don’t think anything revealed ahead will mar the reading experience, it’s pretty nigh impossible to discuss this book substantively without some plot spoilers. So fair warning.)

Generations ago, a starship left Earth with plans to set up a colony ... Read More

Earth Abides: Not with a bang, but a whimper…

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides (1949) won the International Fantasy Award and was selected as one of David Pringle’s Best 100 SF Novels, but I’m guessing many SFF readers have never heard of it. You may have heard of pastoral SF (ala Clifford Simak), and this book may be best classified as post-holocaust pastoral SF, perhaps even "bucolic SF" (similar books include Leigh Bracket's Long Tomorrow and Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon). In Earth Abides, civilization is wiped out by a mysterious and never-explained virus, but our intrepid protagonist Isherwood Williams ("Ish" to his buddies) makes the best of a primitive existence, first surviving alone by scavenging from the bountiful remains of grocery stores, hardware shops, and gas stations, and eventually gathering together a few stragglers t... Read More

Surface Detail: Another wild ride in Iain Banks’ far-future universe

Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks

Surface Detail (2010), the penultimate CULTURE novel, is another wild ride in Iain Banks’ far-future universe. Interestingly (or at least I think so), this novel deals with the afterlife, as does the final CULTURE novel, The Hydrogen Sonata, which was published several months before Banks’ unexpected death of gallbladder cancer in 2013.

Though speculation about what happens beyond death is a heavy subject, Banks deals with it flippantly in Surface Detail (and also to a lesser extent in The Hydrogen Sonata). The premise here is that Hell is simply a virtual reality computer simulation. That’s an interesting idea that becomes pretty funny when you consider that if hell is an MMORPG, then someone must be “hosting Hell” and others are trying to hack it. The ... Read More

Chimpanzee: A haunting imagination plagued with off-putting style

Chimpanzee by Darin Bradley

In the midst of a severe depression, where government officials are obsessed with micromanaging everything they can lay their hands on in the name of efficiency and the public good, Benjamin Cade loses his teaching job and finds himself, along with the majority of the population, unemployed. Unable to pay back his student loans, Ben must face the logical conclusion, and Darin Bradley's haunting extrapolation, of viewing education as a product to be bundled and sold: His degrees in literature and literary theory will have to be repossessed.

In Darin Bradley’s debut Noise, which I reviewed previously, the US has fully collapsed in on itself. In Chimpanzee, the country stands at the edge of a very sharp knife, with chronic unemployment a reality and people having to depend on government hando... Read More

Brave New World: Be careful what you wish for

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

We all know Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World as a classic dystopian tale of a world bereft of conflict, pain, and hardship — but also lacking individuality, free will, and intellectual thought. You were probably forced to read it in high school (I somehow missed it) and if you were a normal teen it must be have been either very weird or strangely appealing (unlimited free drugs and sex, a carefree life, etc.). Granted, it's a brilliant critique of the early socialist utopias penned by H.G. Wells, after which Europe was engulfed in World War I and the Russian Revolution. So it was with much cynicism that Huxley must have written his story in 1932 to debunk the naive fantasies socialists and libertarians had that humanity would solve all economic and social ills and create a perfect society.
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King Kelson’s Bride: Wraps up Kelson’s story

King Kelson’s Bride by Katherine Kurtz

Katherine Kurtz published Deryni Rising, her first novel about young King Kelson, in 1970 and published The Quest for Saint Camber, which seemed to be the final story in the HISTORIES OF KING KELSON in 1986. Then, eleven years later, she published King Kelson’s Bride, a story that ties up many loose ends and answers a few questions about how life turned out for Kelson Haldane. There will be spoilers for the previous books here, so you may want to skip this review until you’ve read up to this point.

King Kelson’s Bride begins about three years after the events of The Quest for Saint Camber. There are two major events going on in Kelson’s life right now and they will become intricately intertwined in this story.

The first is ... Read More

Revolt on Alpha C: Inaugurates the start of one of Sci-Fi’s most beloved careers

Revolt on Alpha C by Robert Silverberg

A quick glance at The Quasi-Official Robert Silverberg Web Site will reveal that the author, during the course of his 60-year career, managed to somehow come out with no fewer than 75 science fiction novels, 180 “adult” and crime novels, 450 (!) sci-fi short stories and novellas, 125 adult/crime short stories, and 70 books of nonfiction… not to mention the 130 or so anthologies for which he served as editor! But all great writing careers have to begin somewhere, and for Robert Silverberg, that beginning was his 1954 novel Revolt on Alpha C.

Actually, Silverberg had already seen one of his short stories, “Gorgon Planet,” released earlier that year, but Revolt on Alpha C was his first full-length work to see publication. Originally printed as a hardcover book by a company called... Read More

Un Lun Dun: Not just your conventional Urban Fantasy

Un Lun Dun by China Miéville

You know how the story goes: Chosen One discovers an alternate world in dire need of rescue. Said Chosen One is prophesised to save the day, finds it hard to come to terms with newfound responsibility, but eventually rises to the task and rescues the world. Yada yada yada. The end. You’ve seen the formula before. Some fantasy novels tend to let personal initiative and ability take a backseat to fate. But what, China Miéville asks, would happen if the prophesies were UnReliable? What if the Chosen One gave up and went home? What if it is actually the UnChosen one we need? The magical world of UnLondon is indeed in need of saving, but not by whom you’d expect…

Strange things are happening to Zanna. Animals stop to look at her in the street and strangers approach her calling her ‘Schwazzy.’ She and her best friend Deeba can’t make head or tail of it. One day, in a French les... Read More

More Than Human: Introducing the “Homo Gestalt”

More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon

Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human, which won the International Fantasy Award in 1954 and was selected as one of David Pringle’s 100 Best SF novels, must have been quite an eye-opener back in 1953 in the Golden Age of Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, when robots, rocket ships, future societies and aliens ruled the roost. For one thing, it hardly features any credible science at all, and in tone and atmosphere owes more to magic realism and adult fantasy. In fact, the writing reminds me most of Ray Bradbury, full of poetry and powerful image... Read More

The Heart of a Witch: Moody writing and an immature heroine

The Heart of a Witch by Judith Hawkes

Back in the late nineties, younger-me was obsessed with reading every novel about witches I could find. (Don’t get me wrong, I still like witch books, but there are just so many now!) The Heart of a Witch, published in 1999, would have appeared right smack in the middle of this obsession, and yet somehow I never discovered it back then, when I was first devouring Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour and Elizabeth Hand’s Waking the Moon. I found it, instead, at a wonderfully labyrinthine used bookstore just a few weeks ago.

The Heart of a Witch tells the story of twins Shelley and Kipling (their dad’s an ... Read More

The Quest for Saint Camber: An exciting DERYNI story

The Quest for Saint Camber by Katherine Kurtz

Even though The Quest for Saint Camber is the third novel in Katherine Kurtz’s THE HISTORIES OF KING KELSON trilogy, it’s actually the sixth novel about King Kelson and it’s part of her larger DERYNI CHRONICLES. You should read the books about Kelson in this order: Deryni RisingDeryni CheckmateHigh DeryniThe Bishop’s Heir, The King’s Justice, and then The Quest for Saint Camber. You might also like to know that this is NOT the last novel about Kelson. There is one more novel called King Kelson’s Bride that wraps up some loose ends from this story.

At this point in the story, young King Kelson has finally put down the Mearan reb... Read More

Crown of Shadows: But wait! There’s more!

Crown of Shadows by C.S. Friedman

Crown of Shadows brings C.S. Friedman’s COLDFIRE trilogy to a close. (This review may contain spoilers for the previous books, which you really must read before beginning Crown of Shadows.)

In the previous book, When True Night Falls, the unlikely allies Reverend Damien Vryce and undead vampire Gerald Tarrant battled their way across hostile foreign countries to combat the evil force that was threatening humanity. Just when they thought they were finished, they were essentially told: “But wait! There’s more!” Now they’re on their way back home where they will — they hope — finally really combat the actual final real ultimate source of evil ... which turns out to be Calesta the demon.

Damien and Gerald w... Read More

Taltos: Thanks, Kat, for introducing me to Vlad!

Taltos by Steven Brust

I got interested in Steven Brust’s VLAD TALTOS books because of Kat’s reviews. When I came across an omnibus edition containing two of the novels, I grabbed it. I am glad I did, and glad I’ve made the acquaintance of Vlad Taltos: an assassin, crime lord, magician, and, as a human, an ethnic minority in a world ruled by the powerful and long-lived Dragaeran. The Book of Taltos contains Taltos and Phoenix. Although Taltos is the fourth book in the series, it is actually a prequel, and a good place to start if you don’t know the character.

Taltos contains a story involving a theft, a rescue attempt, and a meetin... Read More

When True Night Falls: Compelling, but too long

When True Night Falls by C.S. Friedman

When True Night Falls is the second book in C.S. Friedman’s COLDFIRE trilogy. You’ll want to read the first book, Black Sun Rising, first. This review may spoil some of that first book’s plot.

At the end of Black Sun Rising, Reverend Damien Vryce, the devout warrior priest, discovered the source of the evil that is infecting his country — it lies across the ocean where there exists another continent that humans are aware of but know nothing about. In the past, several expeditions have been sent to explore it, but none has returned. Damien knows he should report to his church’s patriarch, but he’s afraid the patriarch will forbid him to go, so Damien ignores the man and instead boards a ship to cross the ocean. He is again reluctantly teaming up with Gerald Tarrant, the evil undead sorcer... Read More

The King’s Justice: King Kelson must squash a rebellion, part two

The King’s Justice by Katherine Kurtz

The King’s Justice is the second book in Katherine Kurtz’s THE HISTORIES OF KING KELSON trilogy, which is part of her DERYNI CHRONICLES. It’s the fifth book about young King Kelson. You really ought to read the books in this order: Deryni Rising, Deryni Checkmate, High Deryni, The Bishop’s Heir and THEN this book, The King’s Justice.

Kelson is now 17 years old. In the previous book, The Bishop’s Heir, Kelson and his advisors (Morgan and Duncan) dealt with the rebellion of the province of Meara, which used to be indepe... Read More

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