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Becoming Darkness: Plenty of thrills with nary a sparkle in sight

Becoming Darkness by Lindsay Francis Brambles

Becoming Darkness is the first of the HAVEN trilogy by debut author Lindsay Francis Brambles, a YA horror series which asks “What if the Nazis won WWII?” with the added twist of a global vampirism plague. It’s mostly quite good, with allusions to literary predecessors like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and layers of complicity in nearly a century’s-worth of conspiracies. The overall concept is interesting and the narrative flows well, and many of the characters are engaging.

In this universe, Hitler and his Nazi scientists experimented with biological warfare, eventually unleashing a plague — the Gomorrah virus — which destroyed an already flu-ravaged global population. Most of those who didn’t die outright became vampires, requiring blood for sustenance and gaining immortality. The humans w... Read More

Shadows of Self: A breezy weird Western romp that left us wanting just a bit more

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 enough, although this is, as I mentioned, the middle book of a second trilogy, my promotional material is te... Read More

Tower of Glass: Enough ideas for several novels

Tower of Glass by Robert Silverberg

Tower of Glass (1972) is another of Robert Silverberg’s ambitious novels from his most prolific period in the late 1960s/early 1970s. In that time he was churning out several books each year that were intelligent, thematically challenging, beautifully written stories that explored identity, sexuality, telepathy, alien contact, religion and consciousness. At his best, he produced some masterpieces like Downward to the Earth and Dying Inside, as well as some dreadful books like Up the Line, but his unfettered imagination and prolific energy were undeniable.

Unfortunately, a wealth of ideas can sometimes overwhelm even the best books, and I think Tower of Glass Read More

Song Quest: An old favourite you may not have heard of

Song Quest by Katherine Roberts

I read Katherine Roberts’ Song Quest (book one of the three-book ECHORIUM SEQUENCE) as a child when it was first published in 1999. A few years later it was the first book I ever cajoled an unsuspecting customer into buying during my Saturday stint at the local bookshop. It is one those books that has stayed with me and I indulged myself with a re-read partly for stroll down memory lane and partly because I do not think it has received the attention it deserves. As with most things revisited from childhood it did feel smaller and less exciting when viewed from the tarnished eyes of adulthood (which is why I will not be returning to Disneyland) but I still think it is an exciting and, most importantly, enchanting read for the young and young at heart.

Rialle, along with her friends Fren and Chissar and class bully Kherron, are all training... Read More

The Crack in Space: Off the mark by 72 years

The Crack in Space by Philip K. Dick

Although he displayed remarkable prescience in many of his books, cult author Philip K. Dick was a good 72 years off the mark in his 18th sci-fi novel, The Crack in Space. Originally released as a 40-cent Ace paperback in 1966 (F-377, for all you collectors out there), the novel takes place against the backdrop of the 2080 U.S. presidential election, in which a black man, Jim Briskin, of the Republican-Liberal party, is poised to become the country's first black president. (Dick must have liked the name "Jim Briskin"; in his then-unpublished, non-sci-fi, mainstream novel from the mid-'50s, The Broken Bubble, Jim Briskin is the name of a DJ in San Francisco!) Unlike Barack Obama, whose campaigning centered around the issues of war, economic crisis and h... Read More

Sorcerer to the Crown: A fun Regency Fantasy with a heart

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Zen Cho’s debut novel Sorcerer to the Crown is a heck of a lot of fun.

A quick description of it may not sound like it, though. It revolves around the magician Zacharias Wythe as he negotiates his new position as Sorcerer Royal, which, in England, has become more of a political position than a magical one. He has to cater to the needs of the English government by helping them negotiate alliances, navigate the shifting politics of the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, and make appearances among the hoity-toity London upper crust. Unfortunately for Zacharias, he does not enjoy politics. His position is complicated by the fact that he took over the staff of Sorcerer Royal after the strange and unexplained death of his mentor and guardian, Stephen Wythe. Combined with the fact that Zacharias is a fr... Read More

Daughter of the Empire: Life on the other side of the rift

Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist & Janny Wurts

THE EMPIRE CYCLE is the second trilogy set in Raymond E. Feist’s (and in this case Janny Wurts’) Riftwar universe. Readers of the RIFTWAR SAGA (the first trilogy by publication date) will know all about the world of Midkemia and its war with the otherworldly Kelewan. Daughter of the Empire takes place entirely in Kelewan and so offers a new insight into the Riftwar universe, from the other side of the rift. Readers familiar with the earlier works will enjoy spotting the veiled references to familiar events and characters, but these are not central to Daughter of the Empire, which can ... Read More

The Heads of Cerberus: Philadelphia freedom… NOT!

The Heads of Cerberus by Francis Stevens

Though little read and seldom discussed today, in the late teens and early 1920s, Minneapolis-born Francis Stevens was something of a cause célèbre among discriminating readers. “Francis Stevens” was the pen name of Gertrude Barrows Bennett, who published her first story in 1917 at the age of 33. Her career as a writer only lasted six years, during which time she produced six novels and three short stories, and she only took to writing in the first place after becoming a widow, as a means of supporting her young daughter and invalid mother. Her work initially appeared in pulp periodicals such as All-Story Weekly and The Argosy, readers of which believed the name “Francis Stevens” to be a pseudonym for the great Abraham Merritt, who indeed was a fan of hers. And Merritt wasn’t the onl... Read More

The Two of Swords: A slow start, but worth getting into

The Two of Swords (Parts 1-5) by K.J. Parker

I’ve made it no secret over the years that I’m a big fan of K.J. Parker, purveyor of quirky and highly intelligent fantasy, formerly a mysterious entity whose real name or even gender was unknown but recently revealed (to my unending surprise) as comedic fantasy author Tom Holt. If you haven’t read Parker yet, stop here and go read Sharps now. You can thank me later.

K.J. Parker’s newest venture is a digital serial novel entitled The Two of Swords. I don’t have exact word counts, and the installments vary somewhat in length anyway, but they feel like short-to-medium novellas — the kind of thing you can read in a few hours. At $0.99 per installment, t... Read More

Two JOHN GOLDEN novellas by Django Wexler: Fun geeky stories

John Golden: Freelance Debugger and John Golden & The Heroes of Mazaroth by Django Wexler

John Golden: Freelance Debugger and John Golden & The Heroes of Mazaroth are two related short urban fantasy novellas by Django Wexler. I discovered these at Audible. Both stories are read by Kevin T. Collins and Jorjeana Marie. John Golden: Freelance Debugger is 2.5 hours long and John Golden & The Heroes of Mazaroth is 2 hours long. I recommend the audio versions, but you can also get them in ebook or, in the case of John Golden & The Heroes of Mazaroth, paperback.

John Golden is an IT guy in an alternate version of our world in which fairies — and we’re talking the nasty type — can infiltra... Read More

The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk: Truly mammoth, with some great stories

The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk edited by Sean Wallace

The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk lives up to its name, with 21 works of fiction ranging from short stories to novellas. “Dieselpunk” is the term the coined for concepts that grew out of steampunk but have left the Victorian era behind and are now, for the most part, set in the time period between the two world wars. There are exceptions in this anthology; one story takes places during WWII and one during the American Occupation of Japan.

What you get here, mostly, is writers having a lot of fun with pulp-era inventions and adventures. There are airships, of course. There are airplanes, rockets, tanks, Voltron/Pacific Rim-style robotic fighting suits; there are jetpacks and giant subterranean drills. Several stories deal with Prohibition, and several authors start from the fact that the “interwar period” was far from free of war, setting tales during the ... Read More

End of Days: A satisfying(ish) conclusion to an edge-of-your-seat thriller

End of Days by Susan Ee

End of Days is the third and final book in Susan Ee's post-apocalyptic PENRYN AND THE END OF DAYS trilogy, one which pits seventeen year old Penryn Young against hordes of angels who seem intent on bringing about the end of the world. More like an alien invasion than the Rapture, these Old Testament angels have decimated entire cities, leaving the remnants of humanity's population to scrounge in the streets.

Penryn has it worse than most, being the sole carer of her paraplegic sister Paige and her schizophrenic mother; struggling to keep all of them alive in the wastelands of San Francisco — at least until she manages to secure a truce with an injured archangel called Raffe, and gradually come to an understanding of what exactly the invasion is really about. Told in first-person narration by P... Read More

Led Astray: A collection of Kelley Armstrong short stories

Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong by Kelly Armstrong

Kelley Armstrong has published several series of urban fantasy and paranormal novels, including her WOMEN OF THE OTHERWORLD contemporary fantasy series, in which werewolves, vampires, and other supernatural creatures live alongside humans, and the CAINSVILLE series, focusing on the lives in and around a town with mysterious supernatural elements. Her latest book, Led Astray, is a collection of twenty-three short stories, many of them set in the worlds created in her series, although several stories are stand-alone. This is an eclectic collection, primarily urban fantasy, but running the gamut from high fantasy to ghost stories to horror, with a few non-fantasy tales thrown in for good measure.

Some of the standout stor... Read More

State of Grace: Drugs, sex, and sunshine — what could go wrong?

State of Grace by Hilary Badger

State of Grace is Hilary Badger’s first Young Adult novel, and it is a doozy. If you put the Biblical concept of the Garden of Eden, Lord of the Flies, and 1984 in a blender, added teenagers with really heavy emotional baggage and a liberal sprinkling of futuristic pharmaceuticals, and turned it on, the result would be a fascinating examination of personal choice and free will (and a terrible smoothie).

State of Grace begins in media res: Wren lives with ninety-nine other teenagers in an apparent paradise, seven days away from the highly anticipated and mysterious Completion Night. They wear loose-fitting sungarb and play naked in a lagoon, sleeping with whomever they want (though never the same person two nights in a row, as per the Books of Dot, and the sex is hinted at rather... Read More

Servants of the Wankh: Still trying to get off that crazy planet

Servants of the Wankh by Jack Vance

Servants of the Wankh (1969) is the second of Jack Vance’s PLANET OF ADVENTURE stories. It’s a direct sequel to City of the Chasch, which you’ll want to read first, though Servants of the Wankh has a short but thorough recap of the story so far. Adam Reith was stranded on the planet Tschai after his spaceship crashed there. He is now back to full health, has formed a couple of friendships and a romance, and is still trying to get off that crazy planet.

Audio version

First, though, he has agreed to escort Ylin Ylan, the damsel in distress that he saved in the previous book, back to her country. He’s secretly hoping that her wealthy fath... Read More

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