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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

Century Rain: Noir, hard SF, and a dash of romance

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Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds

Century Rain (2004) is the first novel Alastair Reynolds published outside of his REVELATION SPACE setting. It combines elements of noir, hard science fiction and time travel with a dash of romance. Reynolds also experimented with noir elements in Chasm City and The Prefect (which I think is one of his best novels). The melding of noir and science fiction doesn’t work as well in Century Rain; this book is not one of Reynold's stronger novels.

The novel opens in the late 23rd century with archaeologist Verity Auger leading two students through the ruins of Paris. Earth has been destroyed by an event referred to as the nanocaust during the 2070s. A host of tiny machines, released to correct the centuries of abuse heaped upon the ear... Read More

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge: A tasty cocktail of an urban fantasy

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Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger

They live in Chicago. They’re young. They’re hip. They have tattoos. They can serve you any alcoholic drink you can name, and after last call, when the bars are closed, they go out for pancakes. And... they are part of a magical society, the Cupbearers Court, protecting innocent citizens, like you and me, from being attacked by demonic monsters. That’s the premise of Paul Krueger’s debut novel, Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge.

I mean, come on... we’ve always known alcohol was magical, haven’t we? Krueger’s fast-paced, fun urban fantasy literalizes the idea of alcohol as magic, and bartenders, with their encyclopedic knowledge and their alchemical ability to mix spirits, fruit, botanicals and sometimes fizzy stuff into tasty mind-altering beverages, into wizardly members of a sec... Read More

The Neutronium Alchemist: Like a soap opera

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The Neutronium Alchemist by Peter F. Hamilton

Warning: Contains a few spoilers for the previous book, The Reality Dysfunction.

“Jesus, I can’t believe that’s all there is: life and purgatory. After tens of thousands of years, the universe finally reveals that we have souls, and then we have the glory snatched right back and replaced with terror. There has to be something more, there has to be. He wouldn’t do that to us.”

The Neutronium Alchemist is the second book in Peter F. Hamilton’s massive (and I mean massive) NIGHT’S DAWN science f... Read More

Song of the Deep: An engaging character placed into an intriguing world

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Song of the Deep by Brian Hastings

“Multi-platform” is one of those buzzwords you hear a lot, and Insomniac Games is taking the concept and running with it, with their most recent game, Song of the Deep, sharing a release with a same-titled Middle Grade book, written by Brian Hastings. I don’t know anything about the game itself, but one can see the pedigree of game elements in the story to, I’d say, both good and ill effect. But generally Song of the Deep is an engaging, quick-moving story with a determinedly likable character at its center.

Twelve-year-old Merryn lives with her fisherman father (her mother died a few years earlier) in a cliff house overlooking the sea. Every day she hopes to go out with her father on his one-man boat, but every day he tells her it’s too dangerous. So instead she’s relegated to standing ato... Read More

Wolf by Wolf: A thrilling motorcycle race through an alternate history

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Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

The year is 1956. A decade ago, Hitler and the Nazis won World War Two, and Germany is now gearing up for the annual Axis Tour: a motorbike race in which the Axis powers — the Third Reich and Imperial Japan — compete to commemorate their victory over Britain and Russia. The race takes riders across seas and continents, from its kick-start in Germany all the way to the finishing line in Japan. Eighteen-year-old Yael, holocaust survivor and death camp escapee, has one goal: to win the race and kill Hitler.

Sequel



Yael’s story begins on a train. Rewind ten years from the race’s start, and we find an eight-year-old Yael and her mother stuffed into a train like cattle, along with hundreds of other souls destined for a death camp. But before she enters, a scientist picks Yael from the crowd of Jews to become a g... Read More

AVENGERS The Red Zone written by Geoff Johns

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AVENGERS The Red Zone written by Geoff Johns, art by Olivier Coipel and Andy Lanning



I ended up with this story arc (this is the term I’m going to use as it appears when I search for this story) through a Reddit gift exchange over a year ago in which I was also delighted to receive some original art by my gifter. This context lent itself well to the reading of the story as I was very happy to receive it and more likely to overlook flaws – it may or may not be the first physical set of comic books I have owned.

First published in fall 2003, The Red Zone came out just after the first X-Men movie (2000) and the first Spider-Man movie (200... Read More

The Queen of the Tearling: An original and compulsive plot

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Before The Queen of the Tearling had even been published, movie rights had been sold and Emma Watson was set to take the lead role (which has now been confirmed, with David Heyman -- of Harry Potter fame -- as producer). The buzz around this book was hard to ignore, but I was surprised to discover that many of the early reviews had been pretty scathing. Loopholes in the plot was a common complaint, as well as a dislike for the book’s protagonist, Kelsea Glynn. Now, I’m all one for franchise-bashing, and this planned trilogy definitely looks set to become the next Twi-Games, Diver-light, Hunger-Whatever (and comparison to the other YA bestsellers will, no doubt, come) but I am here to put forward the case that it is in a league of its own.

Kelsea Glynn, ... Read More

After Worlds Collide: A near-perfect sequel that’s in need of a sequel itself

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After Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie & Edwin Balmer

At the conclusion of Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer’s classic sci-fi novel When Worlds Collide (1933), the Earth is spectacularly destroyed in a collision with the rogue planet that had been dubbed Bronson Alpha. Only 103 people, it would seem, managed to get off our world safely, aboard American scientist Cole Hendron’s rocket ship, and land on the rogue planet’s sister world, Bronson Beta. It is a marvelous cliffhanger of an ending, leaving the reader wondering just what might have happened to Hendron’s other, larger rocket ship, carrying around 400 more prospective colonists; whether any other ships from other countries managed to g... Read More

Titanborn: Detective fiction goes solar system-wide

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Titanborn by Rhett C. Bruno

Titanborn, a future noir tale, follows “collector” Malcolm Graves as he travels around the solar system in the year 2334, resolving problems for his employer in a largely permanent and deadly way. As a collector, Malcolm is a combination of an investigator, bounty hunter and hired gun for Pervenio Corporation, one of the huge corporations that now effectively control Earth’s solar system. Malcolm, who's a veteran of thirty years in the business, travels around taking care of problems like workers' rebellions and incipient revolutions ― usually by assassinating the people causing trouble, with little care for anything but getting the job done.

Three hundred years before, in 2034, a huge meteorite nearly wiped all life off the Earth. Since then, the surviving members of the human race have reached out to other planets and even th... Read More

Port Eternity: Arthurian legend in space

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Port Eternity by C.J. Cherryh

The history, legends, and myths surrounding the man known as King Arthur are some of the most enduring and inspirational material in the English language. Like Robin Hood, Arthur’s name resonates in modern history. The number of books, fiction and non-fiction, which have been spun off the man is increasingly difficult to quantify. Appearing in such a wide variety of Western media and culture, most people, in fact, have only a hazy idea of who he was or might have been (including this reviewer), Disney being as much a teacher as high school history class. C.J. Cherryh is an Arthurian aficionado, so she applied her interests in a science fiction novel. Knowledge of the legends is required for a full appreciation of Port Eternity (1982), a survival in space story that uses a strong sense of character to play with Arthurian myth to a satisfying deg... Read More

Down in the Bottomlands: Hugo-winning novella

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Down in the Bottomlands by Harry Turtledove

Harry Turtledove is known best for his alternate histories. In Down in the Bottomlands, a novella which won the Hugo Award, Turtledove goes with the premise that the Atlantic Ocean did not re-fill the dried-up Mediterranean Sea during the Miocene period. The sea basin becomes a desert, and this alteration in the Earth’s geography affects many aspects of humanity’s genetic and geopolitical evolution.

Radnal vez Krobir, a citizen of the Hereditary Tyranny of Tartesh, is a tour guide in Trench Park, part of the dessert that he knows used to be a sea supplied by the ocean that lies beyond the Barrier Mountains. Now dried up, it has a distinct ecosystem. When we meet Radnal, he is in charge of a diverse group of tourists who w... Read More

The Sudden Appearance of Hope: An SF thriller about self-identity

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The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

Hope Arden has an unusual problem: people forget her. It’s not that they don’t see and hear her, but that once she’s out of sight, she’s out of mind. They completely forget her and their interactions with her. This makes it impossible to have friends, colleagues, a career, and even just a job. She survives by stealing what she needs. Hope isn’t happy, but she’s doing the best she can.

Things change after Hope steals a diamond necklace at a fancy party hosted by a software company that produces a popular life-coaching app called “Perfection.” This app monitors all aspects of its users’ lives, making suggestions about what to wear, what and how much to eat, where to go, who to talk to, etc. It awards points for making the right choices and deducts them when a use... Read More

The Summer Dragon: A paragon of character development with plot troubles

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The Summer Dragon by Todd Lockwood

It’s been ages since I’ve encountered a worthwhile dragon-rider-type novel, and illustrator Todd Lockwood’s debut The Summer Dragon certainly didn’t disappoint! This first instalment in Lockwood’s THE EVERTIDE series tells the story of Maia, scion of a family of dragon-breeders who have tended the aeries of Riat for generations. In The Summer Dragon, the dragon riders are the sociopolitical elite, and Maia hopes to someday day bond with one of the dragons of Riat. When their nation Korruzon’s war against the Harodhi takes a turn for the worse, however, the government requisitions the entire brood from Riat, leaving Maia dragon-less. Compounding the problem is Maia and her brother’s sighting of the mythical Summer Dragon near their hometown, which drags Maia headfirst int... Read More

The Kraken Sea: Lush, dark, and myth-driven

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The Kraken Sea by E. Catherine Tobler

In The Kraken Sea, E. Catherine Tobler tells the story of Jackson, an orphan with no last name, who has finally found a home with one of San Francisco’s elite — Cressida, also known as The Widow, who has an unnamed purpose for her new ward. Jackson has a secret of his own, though; when he becomes angry or uncontrolled, he breaks out in scales and tentacles, exhibiting enormous strength. The only person who knows his secret is his confidant and protector at the orphanage: Sister Jerome Grace, an enigmatic nun with her own hidden abilities. But shortly after his adoption by Cressida, Jackson is asked to take sides against Sister Jerome and Mae Bell, an alluring young woman from one of San Francisco’s rival families. The Bell family runs a circus on the north side of town and, despite Cressida’s warnings, Jackson find... Read More

The Hatching: Fun, fast, arachno-thriller

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The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone

I defy you to read Ezekiel Boone’s The Hatching and not feel that persistent but subtle pull against your leg hairs, or periodically feel for that brushing sensation against the back of your neck. The Hatching is the first novel in a series about spiders killing everyone and taking over the world. They don’t take over the world a la evil scientist, but attempt to take the Earth for their own 8-legged arachno-purposes. You know, eating, killing, and making lots of baby spiders.

The Hatching is like a well-loved and frequently watched B-movie. You know the characters, and love the fact that you know their lines so well. The plot is pretty basic and familiar from a dozen other movies. But you can’t help yourself. Every time you come across it on TV, you know you... Read More

The God Wave: Pushing the limits of human ability

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The God Wave by Patrick Hemstreet

It’s said we only use 10 percent of our brains. What does that mean all our untapped brainpower is capable of? Could human ability surpass everything we’ve thought possible until now? This is exactly what Patrick Hemstreet explores in his debut, The God Wave.

Neuroscientist Chuck Brenton has been exploring the ability of brainwaves. He figures it’s possible to harness the power of the brain to perform actual tasks. But it’s not until mathematician Matt Streegman offers Chuck a business proposition that he realises the true extent of his research. With data that Matt has collected, the pair soon have test subjects using their brainwaves to interact with computer software. They quickly progress from being able to move a mouse across a screen, to being able to move physical objects.

The break... Read More

The Alchemists’ Council: Establishes the groundwork for a new trilogy

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The Alchemists’ Council by Cynthea Masson

As the first installment in a planned trilogy by Cynthea Masson, The Alchemists’ Council faces difficult challenges in setting up a world which is both familiar and foreign, introducing characters and their motivations, and resolving enough plot to satisfy readers while teasing them with more to come. Masson’s prose is dense with details and striking imagery, and her characters are compelling, though the plot occasionally falters under the weight of the world-building.

The Alchemists’ Council exists in a neighboring dimension to our own and is populated by no more than one hundred members who are ruled by an Azoth Magen, typically an elderly member who offers wisdom and guidance to both the Council as a whole and as needed by individual members. They preserve a massive library and use alchemical ... Read More

Shadow and Bone: Same tropes, new story

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Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

YA can be more fickle than its literary cousins. It’s notorious for trends. There were wizards, vampires, and what feels like a decade’s worth of dystopias. The result is a glut of books with sassy female protagonists who discover they have a unique power, are fighting to save the world, and struggling to decide which hunky love interest to pick from in their love triangle. Shadow and Bone doesn’t do anything groundbreaking in terms of avoiding these tropes, but what it does do is tell them in a fresh and innovative way.

Alina Starkov was raised in an orphanage alongside her best friend (and future love, obviously), called Mal. They live in Ravka, a fantasy Russia of samovars and Grisha — powerful magical soldiers that work directly for the king. If you don’t have magic, you’re bumped down to the common army, where Al... Read More

The City of Gold and Lead: Will infiltrates the Tripod city

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The City of Gold and Lead by John Christopher

This is the second book in John Christopher’s TRIPODS series, one of (if not THE) first dystopian series for children. If you haven’t read The White Mountains yet, you should start there first, though there is a short recap in this instalment.

At the end of The White Mountains, the boys Will, Henry, and Beanpole had fled their towns because they didn’t want to be “capped” by the alien Tripods who had conquered Earth and turned humanity into docile sheep. After much adventure, the boys finally arrived at the rebel base in the White Mountains where they’ve been learning and training for a year. The rebels are not content to just hide out. They hope to overthrow the Tripods and restore humanity to its rightful place as Earth’s ruler.

... Read More