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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

Light by Rob Cham

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Light by Rob Cham

I had mixed feelings about Light, a wordless comic by Rob Cham. The artwork is simply beautiful throughout and so part of me wants to highly recommend it for the visual presentation. But issues with the story has part of me pumping the brakes more than a little on that presentation.

The story opens with a black and white image of a diminutive character (whom I’m going to refer to as “Lt” from now on) sitting in a room preparing apparently for an adventure. The clues? A sword, backpack, and map (marked with an X no less) lying on the floor. Lt sets out, enters a cave opening, falls even deeper when the ground gives way, and enters ... Read More

A Princess of Mars: More than the sum of its parts

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Reposting to include Tim's new review.

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

As most of the world already knows, A Princess of Mars is the first of 11 Burroughs novels that tell of John Carter's adventures on the planet Barsoom (Mars, to we Earthlings). This was Burroughs' very first novel, and one of the first books in the swashbuckling space-opera vein; perhaps the very first. It is a marvel of fast-moving action and imagination; indeed, practically every page offers some new marvel or piece of outrageous spectacle. Unfortunately, the book also displays some of the weaknesses of the novice author, but these weaknesses are more than counterbalanced by the pace, color and detail of the story.

Burroughs' imagination seemed to be working overtime in this first book. The descriptions of alien life-forms, dead cities, Barsoomian customs and battles are very well... Read More

Blood of Elves: I thought I was tired of elves and dwarves

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Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski

Based on internal chronology, Blood of Elves (2008) is the third book in Andrzej Sapkowski’s WITCHER series. Its format differs slightly from the previous two books, The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny, which are actually story collections. (But don’t think that just because they’re not novels they aren’t necessary; to have the requisite background information you really do need to read both of them before reading Blood of Elves.)

As much as I loved The Last Wish an... Read More

A Shadow Bright and Burning: Lovecraftian monsters invade Victorian England

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A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess 

In this Victorian-era fantasy, sixteen year old Henrietta Howel, who is now a teacher at the Brimthorn orphanage in Yorkshire where she has spent the last eleven years, has developed an ability to magically set things on fire. She believes this marks her as a witch or magician, who are imprisoned or put to death in England since a horrific event eleven years earlier, when a magician’s spell misfired and opened a portal in our world from another dimension. Through this portal entered the Seven Ancients, magical demons who have been terrorizing England ever since, killing hundreds of people with the help of their Familiars, humans who have been turned into their evil servants.

While magicians are vilified in British society as a result, sorcerers, on the other hand, are revered ― despite the fact that a sorcerer participa... Read More

The Best of Gene Wolfe: Challenging, allusive, and tricky stories

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Editor's note: Stuart originally posted a review of this book in December 2015. This is a new version of the review.

The Best of Gene Wolfe: A Retrospective of His Finest Fiction by Gene Wolfe

I decided to tackle this collection for a third time, this time armed with Marc Aramini’s Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951 to 1986, an 826-page analysis covering Wolfe’s output through 1986, including most of his short stories (no matter how obscure) along with The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Peace, Free Live Free Read More

Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee

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Reposting to include Tim's new review.

Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee

Batman: Hush (2002-2003) is a story arc that appeared originally as Batman #608-619. I first saw it as a bound collection at Barnes & Noble when my daughter was shopping for Christmas presents. I knew nothing about internal chronology, but I picked it up and was just stunned by the glossy, dynamic, sensual and powerful artwork of Jim Lee. This guy is really something else, I can understand why he is so popular.

Before reading Batman: Hush I did m... Read More

The Book of Speculation: Doesn’t quite come together as expected

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Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

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 nove... Read More

The Village in the Treetops: Verne reacting to Darwin

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The Village in the Treetops by Jules Verne

When English naturalist Charles Darwin released his groundbreaking work On the Origin of Species in November 1859, it set off a firestorm of controversy regarding its central tenet: organic evolution, and the descent of life from a common ancestral source. Indeed, such was the brouhaha over this novel concept that even 66 years later, during the so-called Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, the subject was hotly debated, and in fact, to this very day, over 150 years since Darwin’s most famous work was published, there are still millions of religious fundamentalists who adamantly deny its veracity. And so, it may well be understood that Jules Verne — the Frenchman who has been called “The Father of Science Fi... Read More

Children of the Different: A post-apocalyptic dream world

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Children of the Different by S. C. Flynn

S.C. Flynn’s debut novel, Children of the Different (2016), begins as Arika, a thirteen-year-old girl, enters her Changing, a comatose state during which the child explores the Changeland, a dream-like world, and gain new powers. Arika’s twin brother, Narrah, is upset to watch his sister slip into her Changing. Not only does it sever their telepathic bond, The Path, but it also means that his Changing is coming up at any time. When he finally does succumb to his own Changing, Arika has already exited hers. For most of the novel, Narrah and Arika are separated, one in the world of the living, one in the Changeland, and both trying to solve mysteries that relate to the past and future of their world.

Flynn’s setting for Read More

Lord of the Darkwood: The story moves to the next generation

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Lord of the Darkwood by Lian Hearn

This is Book Three in a quartet and this review may contain spoilers for earlier books.

In the third installment of Lian Hearn’s THE TALES OF SHIKANOKO, the story moves to the next generation, with the true emperor and the son of Shika and the Autumn Princess. In Lord of the Darkwood (2016), characters who previously played supporting roles take center stage, and for the first time in the series we meet a tengu, the magical birdlike beings that are not necessarily evil but definitely dangerous.

Despite seeing the tengu in action for the first time, and despite the advances in the plot, I didn’t enjoy Lord of the Darkwood Read More

Girls and Goddesses: Stories of Heroines from Around the World

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Girls and Goddesses: Stories of Heroines from Around the World by Lari Don & Francesca Greenwood

Girls and Goddesses: Stories of Heroines from Around the World, written by Lari Don and illustrated by Francesca Greenwood, is a collection of thirteen folktales in a wide range of time and place. While the language is a little flat, for the most part I found it an enjoyable read. And it’s yet another alternative to all those princess-rescued-by-the-boy-hero that used to be the norm.

The cultures/regions included are:

Native American

The tales are relatively short, ranging from six to twelve pages, with mo... Read More

The Windsingers: Refreshingly mature heroes

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The Windsingers by Megan Lindholm

The Windsingers is the second book in a series of four featuring Ki and Vandien. It was first published in 1984. The first novel, Harpy’s Flight, which was also Lindholm's debut, showed some serious flaws in pacing and structure but I still thought it was an interesting book. In The Windsingers, Lindholm clearly improves in those areas but she loses some of the dynamic between Ki and Vandien. In the end I did think the first novel, Harpy's Flight, was a more entertaining read, even if The Windsingers was better written.

Ki and Vandien are meeting up in the town of Dyal where Ki hopes to find a new cargo to haul. Vandien has been in town for a while and thinks he has come upon a bargain too good to refuse — salvaging a chest from ... Read More

Tom Swift and His Flying Lab: The series that introduced me to sci-fi

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Tom Swift and His Flying Lab by Victor Appleton II

What was the first science fiction novel that you ever read? For a long time, the answer to that question, for me, would have been Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 classic Childhood’s End, which Mr. Miller, back in high school, made us all read for English class. (A very hip teacher, that Mr. Miller!) Upon further reflection, however, it has struck me that I probably read Jules Verne’s 1864 classic A Journey to the Center of the Earth back in junior high school, and that, going back to late public school, there was the series of books featuring teenage inventor Tom Swift, Jr. Baby boomers may perhaps recall how very popular these books were back when... Read More

The Last Days of New Paris: Surrealism comes for us all

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The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville

Putting it simply, China Miéville’s The Last Days of New Paris is a “China Miéville” story. For many readers, that’s sufficient information to begin reading.

But here are some additional details, just in case. The Last Days of New Paris is a novella length alternate history in which the Nazis and the resistance fight to control Paris. Something weird is going on in this timeline: surreal creatures called “manifs” wander the streets of Paris after an S-Blast took the surreal creatures out of the artworks and into the world. The “manifs” don’t like Nazis, and so the latter counter the former by m... Read More

Stiletto: The hidden, super-powered weapon of destruction

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Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley

Note: This review contains some minor spoilers for The Rook, the first book in THE CHECQUY FILES series.

The Checquy, a top secret British agency of people with supernatural powers, are contemplating a peace accord and merger with their hereditary enemies, the Belgian Wetenschappelijk Broederschap van Natuurkundigen (the “Scientific Brotherhood of Physicists”), whom the Checquy dismissively call the “Grafters.” While Checquy members are born with superpowers (some of them very odd, like the ability to implode another person until their whole body is about the size of a head, a process that is invariably fatal), the Grafters get their superpowers through wildly advanced surgical modifications.

In the seventeenth century, the Grafte... Read More

A Princess of the Chameln: A thoughtful and magical coming of age story

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A Princess of the Chameln by Cherry Wilder

In A Princess of the Chameln, Cherry Wilder tells the story of Aidris Am Firn, whose parents, the king and queen of the Firn and one half of the rulership of the Chameln, are attacked in front of her. As her last living act, Aidris’s mother gives her a magical stone that will aid her in the future, and commands her not to let anyone else see it. Not long after, another assassination is attempted on her life and the life of her cousin, Sharn Am Zor, the prince who is destined to rule at Aidris’s side when they are grown. Aidris is sent to live with regent after regent, constantly on the run for her life, while she tries to seek out who poses a threat to her rule.

In some ways A Princess of the Chameln felt episodic rather than following one clearly-defined course of action. A... Read More

The Unreal and the Real, Vol 1: Where on Earth

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The Unreal and the Real, Volume One: Where on Earth by Ursula K. Le Guin

Having just read two long, dense space opera epics, I was in the mood for shorter work, and who better than Ursula K. Le Guin, one of the giants of the sci-fi/fantasy field, and a respected American novelist who has transcended genre and literary categories. I discovered two volumes of her stories available on Audible, with Volume One: Where on Earth (2012) set on Earth in what I would categorize as “literary realism” style, though in Le Guin’s introduction she challenges the convenient and inaccurate labels we apply, and the preconceptions and biases that accompany them.

Nevertheless, it’s undeniable that this first volume will be of less interest to dedicated fans of science fiction, fant... Read More

The Dark Light Years: Worth a wallow

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The Dark Light Years by Brian Aldiss

It had been a good 30 years since I last read anything by British sci-fi author Brian Aldiss. Back in the mid-‘80s, spurred on by three highly laudatory articles in David Pringle’s Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, I had eagerly read Aldiss’ classic novel of a generational starship, Non-Stop (1958); his equally classic tale of an Earth billions of years hence, Hothouse (1962); and his underrated novel of an Earth gone sterile due to fallout radiation, Greybeard (1964), back to back to back (as well as his volume of linked stories, 1959’s Galaxies Like Grains of Sand) ... and had loved them all. But, between this and that... Read More

Ninefox Gambit: Geeky, hard sci-fi for Stephenson fans

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Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

In an advanced, multi-planetary empire replete with advanced technology and magical mysticism, Captain Kel Cheris finds herself forced to use heretical tactics to save her troops when she puts down a sacrilegious rebellion. Unfortunately, her superiors in Ninefox Gambit (2016) aren’t quite sympathetic to her gambit, choosing to use her as a tool to revive and serve as a bodily host to the immortal spirit form of General Shuos Jedao to save the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a religious stronghold that’s critical to the civilization’s magics. It would be a difficult enough task for Cheris since the rebels have taken and are now defending what was supposed to be an impregnable fortress — but did I mention that Jedao is utterly, completely insane?

Jedao’s condition makes the interplay between Cheris and himself particularly i... Read More