3.5

Click on stars to FIND REVIEWS BY RATING:
Recommended:
Not Recommended:

Jokers Wild: Another WILD CARDS romp

Jokers Wild edited by George R.R. Martin

Jokers Wild (1987) is the third in George R.R. Martin’s WILD CARDS series. The WILD CARDS books are anthologies and mosaic novels set in a shared world and containing a large cast of regular characters. Authors contributing to Jokers Wild are Edward Bryant, Leanne C. Harper, George R.R. Martin, John J. Miller, Lewis Shiner, Walter Simons, and Melinda M. Snodgrass. Each author handles the perspective of a particular character and, under George R.R. Martin’s amazing editorship, the different perspectives and plotlines magically come together to form a cohesive and pract... Read More

The Rhesus Chart: Bob takes on a clan of vampire bankers

Reposting to include Marion's new review:

The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross

The Rhesus Chart is the fifth and most recent novel in Charles Stross’ LAUNDRY FILES. Bob Howard has been moving up the ranks in the Laundry — not due to any particular motivation or ambition on his part, but just because he has managed, so far, to stay alive as he and his fellow agents battle the eldritch horrors who are trying to find their way into our universe so they can eat us.

While doing some data mining in his office one day, Bob happens to notice a small but statistically significant outbreak of an illness that looks like Mad Cow disease in an area of London. Curious, he begins to investigate by consulting a neurologist, looking at cadavers, and tracing the habits of the people who’ve died of the disease. Eventually this leads him to a small group of data a... Read More

Podkayne of Mars: Heinlein gives us a smart feministic mixed-race heroine

Podkayne of Mars by Robert A. Heinlein

Podkayne (“Poddy”) Fries is a pretty, mixed-race teenager who lives with her parents and her younger brother (Clark) on Mars. We learn about her family and her adventures via the diary entries she writes. Poddy tell us that her family was planning to take a vacation to visit Old Earth, but when there is a mix-up with some frozen embryos, they had to cancel the trip so Poddy’s mother can take care of the unexpected new babies. Poddy is devastated until her Uncle Tom, a man who is a respected politician on Mars, arranges to escort Poddy and Clark to earth on a luxury spaceship.

Poddy is not White.

On the spaceship Poddy and Clark make a friend and get to enjoy extravagant dinners and dances. Poddy learns a lot about how to fly a spaceship and, along the way, readers will learn quite a bit about space travel, including... Read More

An Apprentice to Elves: A primer in in-depth worldbuilding

An Apprentice to Elves by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette

An Apprentice to Elves, the third installment of the ISKRYNE series, is a book that depends on its thick world-building. Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette have created realistic cultures that take some cues from Norse and Roman history and dramatized a cultural conflict between them, at the same time as developing relationships and characters rooted in these cultures. Most of the narrative is set in the Northlands, an icy forested domain whose natural defenses are harsh enough to help the Northmen stay safe. But a new enemy, the fiercely disciplined Rhean, invades from the south, hoping to colonize the Northlands and bring the Northmen under their rule. The No... Read More

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man: Jennifer Lawrence of Arabia

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man is the third volume of the SONG OF THE LIONESS quartet and the weakest volume of the series. Tamora Pierce makes a good effort of exposing Alanna (and thus, the reader) to some of the varying peoples and customs within the Tortallan kingdom and its neighboring countries, but relies too much on the White Savior trope, and the entire book suffers as a result. As I’ve said before, readers should start with the first book, Alanna: The First Adventure and work forward, though Pierce does a great job of summarizing key events from previous books.

The entire SONG OF THE LIONESS series is about old ways changing to make way for the new, and nowhere is that more blatant than in this b... Read More

The Bands of Mourning: Keeps the MISTBORN fun rolling

The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson

The Bands of Mourning is the third book in Brandon Sanderson’s second MISTBORN series, following closely (well under a year) on the heels of the last installment, Shadows of Self. Set several centuries after the original trilogy, this second one shows us a world still dealing with the ramifications of those events, but one that also, unlike a lot of fantasy worlds, has continued to progress technologically as guns, trains, electricity, and a host of other inventions/discoveries continue to shape the culture. While The Bands of Mourning has a few issues, fans of the series (I’m one) will find themselves mostly nicely rewarded as they reenter the world of Lawman and Lord Waxillium Ladrian.

There’... Read More

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore

For those who claim that comics lack sufficient depth and complexity, fans generally recommend Alan Moore’s Watchmen, V for Vendetta and From Hell, Frank Miller’s DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and SIN CITY series, and Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN series. These are considered “gateway” titles likely to convince skeptics that comics (often labeled ... Read More

Ash and Silver: A lushly written novel of transformation

Ash and Silver by Carol Berg

At the edge of the eastern sea, the Fortress Evenide holds the Order of the Knights of the Ash. Greenshank is a paratus, one level below a knight, and is working day and night to be deemed ready for promotion. Greenshank is completely loyal to the Knights of the Ash, in part because he has to be. He has no memory of any life before two years ago when he was brought to the citadel. Then one day, returning from an assignment, he is accosted by an otherworldly woman, a Danae, and she calls him Lucien de Remeni.

Ash and Silver is the second book in Carol Berg’s SANCTUARY series. I’m not sure what to say about it, except that if you have liked Berg’s other work, you will like this one. Everything she does well is here, against the backdrop, once again, of a plau... Read More

Blood of the Mantis: A slower, more thoughtful sequel

Reposting to include Kevin's new review:

Blood of the Mantis by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Things begin to slow down some in Blood of the Mantis. The third book in the SHADOWS OF THE APT series is the smallest, and yet took the longest for me to read. Adrian Tchaikovsky maintains the same level of writing established in the first two, but seems to be struggling a bit with middle-book syndrome. The events in book 3 are too important to completely leave out of the story, it’s too long to be split between other books, and feels a little wanting after the first two books’ onslaught of awesomeness.

Blood of the Mantis is not a bad book by any stretch of the imagination; it’s just not as good as the first two. It had some seriously high standards to meet after Dragonfly Falling. Read More

The Screaming Staircase: Spooky and fun (but no Bartimaeus)

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathon Stroud

LOCKWOOD & CO. is Jonathan Stroud’s second four-part outing. It follows on from the success of his BARTIMAEUS sequence (which comes highly recommended here at FanLit). Stroud specialises in alternate versions of London for children. In BARTIMAEUS it was a London of djinn-conjuring wizards. This time London is troubled by deadly ghosts. The Screaming Staircase is a pacey, exciting introduction to Stroud's new London, but it lacks the sense of magic and humour that made BARTIMAEUS such a winner.

The story’s narrator is Lucy Carlyle, a young girl from the north of England who makes her way to London, seeking employment at a ghost-hunting agency. London’s ghosts are extremely dangerous, able to ki... Read More

Alpha and Omega: A MERCY companion series kicks off with this novella

Alpha and Omega by Patricia Briggs

Concurrently with her MERCY THOMPSON urban fantasy series about a coyote shapeshifter and her adventures with werewolves, vampires, fae and other supernatural beings, Patricia Briggs has been writing the ALPHA AND OMEGA series about an “Omega” werewolf, who has unique powers for a werewolf. This novella introduces Anna, a seemingly submissive, sexually and physically abused werewolf in an appalling mess of a pack in Chicago. Anna was unwillingly turned into a werewolf three years ago and her life has been miserable since. But when she reads an newspaper article about a missing teenager and realizes that this is the same boy she had seen in a werewolf cage in the pack leader’s home, she drums up her courage and finally telephones Bran, the Montana-based “Marrok... Read More

Luna: New Moon: A glamorous lunar soap opera

Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald

I want to start this review by saying that many readers are going to absolutely love Luna: New Moon and, even though I’m not one of them, I can completely understand why they will. I admired this a lot more than I enjoyed it.

Luna: New Moon, the first installment in Ian McDonald’s LUNA series, is an epic soap opera. It’s like The Godfather, Dynasty, or Dallas on the moon. The story focuses on the Cortas, a family that lives on the moon under the head of its elderly matriarch, Adriana Corta. When she was a young woman in Brazil, Adriana was disillusioned with life on Earth, so ... Read More

Kitty Goes to Washington: A fun “popcorn novel”

Kitty Goes to Washington by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty Goes to Washington, by Carrie Vaughn, is the second book in the long-running Kitty Norville series. I enjoyed the first book, Kitty and the Midnight Hour, enough that I read the second at the first opportunity. Kitty Goes to Washington picks up immediately after the events of book 1, when Kitty gets a subpoena to appear before a congressional committee that is investigating a government program for paranormal research. Kitty has been called as an expert witness due to her semi-celebrity status as a radio DJ who claims to be a werewolf. The motives behind her being called in to testify before the committee seems suspicious, and much of the intrigue in the story is built around the committee and its... Read More

DC Super Heroes Origami: Fun, but definitely challenging

DC Super Heroes Origami: 46 Folding Projects for Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and More! by John Montroll

John Montroll has spent decades creating original origami patterns and publishing books so that others can learn from his experiments. I actually own a few of them, and have used them to practice my skills at paper-folding. When I found out that he’d partnered with DC Comics to produce DC Super Heroes Origami, I knew I just had to try my hand at the contents.

There are a total of 46 projects in DC Super Heroes Origami: 6 easy, 16 medium, and 24 difficult (with a corresponding rating of 1, 2, or 3 stars). The projects are broken into four sections: The Batman Collection, The Superman Collection, The Wonder Woman Collection, and The Justice League Collection. I appreciated the wide-ranging representation of characters; Green Lantern Hal Jordan seems like an... Read More

The Martian: Being abandoned on Mars is more fun than you’d think

Reposting to include Kat's new review:

The Martian by Andy Weir

Mars has long had a somewhat cursed reputation in space exploration. Launch failures, midair explosions, crash landings. Probes that missed the planet completely. Probes we’ve never heard from again and still don’t know what happened. By the time of Andy Weir’s The Martian, though, things have been on a better trajectory for some time and humanity has successfully landed several expeditions on Mars. Mark Watney is the engineer/botanist on the third such expedition, Ares 3, which is just coming up on the end of their first week of a month-long stay. Unfortunately, this is where Mars’ checkered past comes roaring back in the form of a sudden huge sandstorm that forces an abort of the mission and a quick exit from the planet. Or, a quick exit for all of the crew but Watney, who through a freak occurrence is presumed dead and thus abandoned, lead... Read More

The Elfstones of Shannara: Actually refreshing for today, and for when it was written

The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks

I've read plenty of Terry Brooks's fantasy novels, but among his earliest works I've only ever completed The Wishsong of Shannara. But with news of a television adaptation of The Elfstones of Shannara scheduled to air in 2016, I figured now was as good a time as any to delve into his backlog — and it's interesting to see how he's developed as a writer since then.

As the direct sequel to The Sword of Shannara, the story centres on the grandson of the previous novel's protagonist: Wil Ohmsford, grandson of Shea Ohmsford. He's approached by the Druid Allanon with a task only he can accomplish — use the three magical Elfstones in the defence of a young Elf girl with a mission of her own set before her.

For thousands of years a magical tree known as the Ellcrys has held back hordes ... Read More

Thunderbird: Ancient shores rediscovered

Thunderbird by Jack McDevitt

When we last left Jack McDevitt’s North Dakota in 1996’s Ancient Shores, the U.S. Government had failed miserably and embarrassingly to wrest control of an alien stargate from the Spirit Lake Sioux, rightful owners of the land on which the alien artifact was found. Thunderbird, a sequel to Ancient Shores, picks up several months after the showdown, which also saw fictional poet Walter Asquith shot dead.
The world of Grand Forks, North Dakota, with its brutal winters and routine working days, had been replaced by a cosmos that was suddenly accessible.
The story in McDevitt’s Ancient Shores orbits the discovery of seemingly alien artifacts — a futuristic sailboat buried deep within the plains of North Da... Read More

The Mark of Athena: A bit of middle book syndrome, but still action-packed

Heroes of Olympus: The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan

This is the third book in the five-part HEROES OF OLYMPUS series by Rick Riordan, and as the title would imply, it focuses on Annabeth Chase: daughter of Athena. Though it suffers a little from middle book syndrome, with nothing started and nothing finished, Riordan makes sure that Annabeth's quest remains the key focus of the book, letting it drive the course of the otherwise sprawling narrative.

The seven heroes of the prophecy have been assembled: Percy, Annabeth, Leo, Hazel, Frank, Piper and Jason; all of whom have a vital part to play in the defeat of the goddess Gaea, who has been awakening both giants and the dead in her bid to destroy the Olympian gods.

As it happens, the Roman gods are also at risk thanks to the meddling of Hera/Juno, with the var... Read More

Ancient Shores: First contact – an antique coast washed by time

Ancient Shores by Jack McDevitt

Fort Moxie lent itself to timelessness. There were no major renovation projects, no vast cultural shifts imposed by changing technology, no influxes of strangers, no social engineering. The town and the broad prairie in which it rested were caught in a kind of time warp.

A farmer works his land in the far reaches of North Dakota — just a few miles away from the Canadian border. Something pokes from the flat lands that he calls home. He lives in a large basin of prairie-land, farms and flat as far as the eye can see. “The plain stretched out forever.”

It’s manmade. Clearly not of the land. The farmer digs it up and finds that the cylinder is just the beginning. It’s connected to something even larger… a mast. Underneath is the rest of the sailboat. Buried in ground that’s been a prairie for millions of years.

The discovery of the ... Read More

The Blind Assassin: Stories within stories within stories

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

A provincial Canadian town in the 1920s doesn’t automatically scream sci-fi to most readers. But that is the beauty of Margaret Atwood’s tenth novel, The Blind Assassin (2000). She weaves a sprawling, post-war tale with pulp science-fiction stories that have readers leaping between Port Ticonderoga and Planet Zycron. It doesn’t sound like it should work, but the story is only made richer by these contrasting worlds.

The novel opens with Iris Chase recalling that her sister drove a car off a bridge. Iris is now eighty-three, and so begins the first of three story threads in The Blind Assassin: her tale of her present-day life as an old woman haunted by her past, and the need she feels to record her history truthfully. Iris then returns to the ... Read More

Roadside Picnic: Russian SF classic with parallels to Vandermeer’s Area X

Roadside Picnic by Boris & Arkady Strugatsky

Roadside Picnic (1972) is a Russian SF novel written by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky. This was back when authors and publishers were subject to government review and censorship. Since it didn’t follow the Communist Party line, it didn’t get published in uncensored book form in Russia until the 1990s despite first appearing in a Russian literary magazine in 1972. So its first book publication was in the US in 1977. Since then Roadside Picnic has been published in dozens of editions and languages over the years, and inspired the 1979 Andrei Tarkovsky film Stalker, which the Strugatsky brothers wrote the screenplay for.

The story is set after the Visitation, when aliens briefly stopped on the Earth and left six Zones where strange alien technology and physical phenomenon exist. Residents o... Read More

Night of the Soul Stealer: For kids who like being scared

Night of the Soul Stealer by Joseph Delaney

Night of the Soul Stealer, the third book in Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE (or WARDSTONE CHRONICLES) series is another intense scary story for children. Fans of the first two books, Revenge of the Witch and Curse of the Bane, which readers should finish first, will be pleased. I’m listening to Christopher Evan narrate HarperAudio’s version of the series.

The weather is getting colder, so it’s time to travel to the Spook’s winter residence, a solitary little house set in a harsh and desolate landscape. On the way, Alice, Tom’s only friend, is dropped off at a distant neighbors’ house. There’s some reason why the Spook doesn’t want her at his depressing winter estate... Read More

Grudging: Siege and sacrifice in a Spanish realm

Grudging by Michelle Hauck

Grudging, a newly published young adult fantasy and the first in a new series called BIRTH OF SAINTS from Michelle Hauck, is set in a country reminiscent of medieval Spain, where noble warhorses are a soldier's right arm and religious faith is a significant part of most people's lives, giving this fantasy an somewhat unusual cultural flavor.

Seventeen year old Ramiro wants nothing more than to be a respected soldier in his pelotón like his older brother Salvador: to fight in hand-to-hand combat with his sword and earn the right to grow a beard, the ultimate sign of manhood in his society. Ramiro’s people avoid the legendary witches who live in the swamps and kill strangers with the magic in their voices. But when barbaric Northern invaders besiege Ramiro's walled city of Colina Hermosa and threaten to murder all who live there, his f... Read More

Three Moments of an Explosion: Not all winners, but more than enough to enjoy

Three Moments of an Explosion by China Miéville

I am, like many, a huge Miéville fan (I’ve lost track of how many of his books I’ve placed on my best-of-year lists). I’m also more of a fan of the long-form rather than the short form, especially in the genre, greatly preferring novels and novellas to short stories. So how, I wondered, would I respond to Three Moments of an Explosion? Would Miéville’s style and deep ideas win out, or would the short story form constrain him, robbing him of some of his tools? It turned out to be a bit of both, and though I was admittedly somewhat disappointed in the collection as a whole, I’d still call it well worth reading. I’m going to give my impression of some selected stories, then discuss the work in its entirety.

“Polynia” — Icebergs over London. The story, told from a young teen’s POV, is well told with some lovely imagery of the floating ic... Read More

Ubik: Use only as directed

Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

Warning: Use only as directed. And with caution.

Written in 1969, Ubik is one of Philip K. Dick’s most popular science fiction novels. It’s set in a future 1992 where some humans have develop psi and anti-psi powers which they are willing to hire out to individuals or companies who want to spy (or block spying) on others. Also in this alternate 1992, if you’ve got the money, you can put your beloved recently-deceased relatives into “coldpac” where they can be stored in half-life and you can visit with them for years after their death.

As Ubik begins, Glen Runciter, the head of one of New York City’s top anti-psi organizations, discovers that all the operatives of the top psi organization (whose telepathic fields they like to keep track of) h... Read More