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Horrible Monday: The Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill

The Mist in the Mirror: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill

The beginning of The Mist in the Mirror is lovely, evocative of turn-of-the century London and the surrounding English countryside. I felt like Susan Hill had been there and merely transcribed her experiences:
It was early afternoon but already the light was fading and darkness drawing in. A chill wind sneaked down alleyways and passages off the river. The houses were grimy, shiny and black-roofed with rain, mean and poor and ugly, and regularly interspersed with more, looming, sheds. The air was filled with the hooting of tugs and a plaintive siren, and there was the constant thump of boxes onto the wharves.
If that doesn't set the mood for you, then nothing surely will.

All of the required spooky set pieces are on full display in this tale: a pale, dirty boy of roughly thirteen years who appears when there is trouble and... Read More

“Thief:” Gen’s childhood escapades

“Thief!” by Megan Whalen Turner

Readers who (like me) are fond of Megan Whalen Turner’s THE QUEEN’S THIEF fantasy series, and who mourn the length of time between publication of her novels, can ease their pain just a little with the short story “Thief!,” originally published in August 2000 in Disney Adventures Magazine and now posted on her website. “Thief!” is a prequel to The Thief, the first book in this series. It’s a brief adventure in the life of young Gen, who begins to develop his thieving abilities at a young age. As readers of the series are aware, Gen’s childhood was marked by frequent run-ins with his numerous cousins. Young Gen has stolen some valuable gold, c... Read More

The Unnoticeables: Inventive, disturbing, funny and a little sparse

The Unnoticeables by Robert Brockway

There was a lot I liked in Robert Brockway’s urban fantasy novel The Unnoticeables. Starting with the most superficial elements first, I loved this cover. Tor went ironic, giving The Unnoticeables a highly noticeable cover. It’s venom green, a mashup of gearwheel-eyed killer clowns, fractals, figure-ground images and spiky-Mohawked punks. It’s disturbing and kind of funny, thus the perfect cover for Brockways’s novel. The Unnoticeables is the first in a series.

The core idea of The Unnoticeables is inventive and scary. Beings of light called “angels” regulate the universe by reallocating energy. Angels are generally unhappy with how inefficiently humans utilize energy, due to our cumbersome program coding (for “coding” read “selves”). Angels really like to... Read More

City of the Chasch: Finally! PLANET OF ADVENTURE on audio!

City of the Chasch by Jack Vance

City of the Chasch (1968) is the first book in Jack Vance’s PLANET OF ADVENTURE series. I’m so excited that Blackstone Audio is finally getting these produced in audio format! City of the Chasch was just released a few weeks ago and the following books, Servants of the Wankh, The Dirdir, and The Pnume, will be released in the next three months (one per month).

In this first book we meet Adam Reith, a scout on a spaceship that traveled from Earth to the planet Carina 4269 from which some sort of signal has been detected. When Adam is sent out on a shuttle to reconnoiter the planet, the spaceship and its crew is shot down and Adam crash-lands, leaving him alone an... Read More

Armada: Another dose of 80s gamer trivia

Armada by Ernest Cline

Armada is the sophomore effort from Ernest Cline, who burst onto the SF scene with the wildly-popular Ready Player One, a fun-filled romp through 80s pop culture via a virtual reality game that managed to skillfully depict a dystopian future and also be a rollicking adventure and coming-of-age tale. The secret to Ready Player One’s success was that you could still enjoy it without catching every obscure geek reference, but many readers who grew up in the 80s absolutely loved it.

There’s an old adage about “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” so it makes perfect sense for Ernest Cline to go back to the well for another bucketful of nerdy 80s gamer trivia and ladle on generous... Read More

Only Ever Yours: Disturbing dystopia with a feminist twist

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

Imagine a world where women are not born but created. ‘eves’ exist purely to become the perfect companions of men. They are raised in The School by a group of women called chastities, where they can take one of three routes: become a companion (the perfect Stepford wife), a concubine (existing solely for the extra-marital pleasures of men) or a chastity.

Only Ever Yours follows the story of sixteen-year-old freida (and note the lower case; only men are referred to with capital letters). She has spent twelve long years being ranked against her classmates — fellow eves — not for her grades (eves can’t read) but for her beauty. freida has gone to bed hungry every night, eaten kcal blockers after every meal, even taken pills to make her throw up after she’s over-indulged. All of it has been in preparation for ‘The Ceremony,’ where the eves will either be cho... Read More

The Getaway God: A return to classic Sandman Slim

The Getaway God by Richard Kadrey

People are bailing out of LA in droves. It’s Christmas. The city is flooding. An apocalypse is happening, and Sandman Slim’s girlfriend, Candy, is reverting to her predatory Jade nature. The Angra Om Ya, who were the original gods of this reality before they lost it to a confidence-trickster god, are returning, and they aren’t happy. The Golden Vigil, a government-angelic partnership, has begun rounding up supernatural beings and putting them in concentration camps. For James Stark, the half-nephilim arena-fighter and former CEO of Hell, known as Sandman Slim, it’s basically just another Tuesday.

The Getaway God by Richard Kadrey is the sixth SANDMAN SLIM story. As the series has progressed, Kadrey has taken some scenic detours, as he did in ... Read More

The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold: Generally inventive, with some flaws

The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold by Peter V. Brett

Since I’m unfamiliar with the works of Peter V. Brett, The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold seemed like a smart place for me to start. The two novellas of the title, along with some “deleted scenes” and a Ward Grimoire, gave me a very clear view of Brett’s style and a glimpse of the greater universe of the DEMON CYCLE series. While I was fascinated by the rune-warding system and the varieties of demons, the action scenes were clunky, and some of the world-building elements were disappointing.“Brayan’s Gold,” the first novella, takes place when Arlen of Tibbet’s Brook is sixteen years old and still an apprentice Messenger. (Messengers are entrusted with the secure transport of goods or letters between settlements.) He’s got a brand-new su... Read More

The Battle for Skandia: The enemy of my enemy…

The Battle for Skandia by John Flanagan

As usual, since The Battle for Skandia is book four in John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series, you should expect spoilers for the previous books: The Ruins of Gorlan, The Burning Bridge, and The Icebound Land.

At the end of The Icebound Land, we left Will and Princess Cassandra hiding out in a cabin in the woods during winter in Skandia after they escaped from slavery. Cassandra has been nursing Will back to health for weeks. Now things are starting to thaw and they must leave before hunters arrive. Right away, though, Cassandra is captured by some Temujai warriors. (We haven’t heard of these folks before which, in my mind, may indicate that Flan... Read More

Redshirts: Fun metafiction for SF fans, but not worthy of a Hugo Award

Redshirts by John Scalzi

I take it you all know Star Trek, Deep Space Nine, Red Dwarf, etc. Have you seen Galaxy Quest? Stranger than Fiction? Saturday Night Live? Well, if you just throw them all together with a paper-thin plot, interchangeable characters, snarky dialogue that’s pretty funny, absolutely zero physical descriptions, and three codas featuring minor characters that try to shift the story’s tone, and you’ve got John Scalzi’s Redshirts.

Sounds like poorly edited, slapdash fiction written for a loyal, unquestioning fanbase? Not at all, this is META fiction, so anything that seems lazy, clichéd, or nonsensical is actually SUPPOSED TO BE, ‘cause this is META fiction that is ridiculing such poor writing and tired genre tropes. Get it? So clever... Read More

EDGE: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

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 novelistic elements are: a book within a book, a traveling carnival/circus, a non-linear structure, a main character who is a librarian and another who deals in old books, a quir... Read More

Hominids: What if Neanderthals survived on a parallel Earth?

Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer

In Robert J. Sawyer’s Hominids, Ponter, a theoretical physicist who specializes in quantum mechanics, accidently transports to a parallel Earth. Incredibly, Ponter realizes, on this world, his fellow Neanderthals went extinct.

Although it features creatures traveling between dimensions or planets, Hominids is not about invasion or war. Instead, Ponter spends most of his time in Canada talking to doctors who do their best to keep him away from the media. The government does not get involved because most people are skeptical that Ponter is a Neanderthal. Ponter’s doctors therefore invite Mary Vaughan, a geneticist, to fly in and to run some tests. Sadly, we meet Mary just as she is raped on her way home from the lab. Distraught, she decides to leav... Read More

Igraine the Brave: A sweet feminist children’s story

Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke

After finishing The Thief Lord, my daughter and I wanted to read more Cornelia Funke (pronounced “FOONK-ah”) so we picked up Igraine the Brave, a short novel that we listened to in audio format.

Igraine is a 12 year old girl who lives in a castle complete with a moat, drawbridge, stone lions and gargoyles, and lots of spiders (Igraine hates spiders). Her parents are famous magicians and her older brother is training with them. Igraine has no use for magic, though. She wants to be a knight. She gets her chance when her parents accidentally turn themselves into pigs just as the castle is under siege by enemy forces. The only way to turn her parents back into humans so they can protect the castle with their magic spells, is to make a potion t... Read More

Fiendish Schemes: Delightfully droll

Fiendish Schemes by K.W. Jeter

Fiendish Schemes is a recent (2013) sequel to K.W. Jeter’s classic steampunk novel Infernal Devices which I have previously reviewed. Jeter, who inadvertently coined the term “steampunk” and writes in a style similar to his friend James P. Blaylock, is probably an acquired taste. Personally, I love his droll overblown style, his eccentric and morose characters who tend to be paranoid and suicidal, and his absurd plots. If you’re a fan of Blaylock, Jack Vance Read More

Film review: The Giant Behemoth

The Giant Behemoth: Beast vs. behemoth

It had been many decades since I last saw The Giant Behemoth. When I was a kid, I had always grown restless with the film, largely because director/co-screenwriter Eugene Lourie withholds a good, establishing glimpse of the titular creature until the picture is almost 2/3 over; an interminable amount of time for an impatient youth who just wants to see a freakin' monster. As I plopped the DVD in recently, my one thought was, would I be as restless as an adult? Behemoth, of course, was the second in Lourie's loose dinosaur trilogy. In the first film, 1953's classic, superb, artful and trendsetting The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Lourie, with the assistance of stop-motion wizard Ray Harryhausen, and working from a short story by Ray Bradbury, had given to the world the template for all thawed-out-dinos... Read More

The Queen of Air and Darkness and Other Stories: Well-written but overstuffed

The Queen of Air and Darkness and Other Stories by Poul Anderson

Short story anthologies tend to be difficult to review, mostly because it’s hard to come up with a cohesive theme to discuss when the stories can be so diverse in quality and in tone. Fortunately for me, Poul Anderson seems to have gone out of his way in this little collection to ensure that any reviewer had no such problems here. The stories are actually remarkably similar in setting, tone, and theme. They also share much the same flaws. So while I will deal with the stories individually, I can also discuss them in general.

Each story in the collection is planetary romance of some description. Anderson apparently doesn’t buy into warp drives or wormholes, so voyages across the stars are always slow and expensive. In each story, humans establish colonies on some ... Read More

The Shadow Throne: Engaging, but too many doldrums

The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler

Book two in Django Wexler’s THE SHADOW CAMPAIGNS series, The Shadow Throne sees our heroes Janus bet Vhalnich, Winter Ihernglass, and Marcus d’Iviore return to the capital of Vordan, Vordan City, upon hearing of the king’s dire illness. Confined to his sickbed, the king promotes Janus to Minister of Justice, who then places Marcus in command of the city guard. As Janus works to promote the independence of Vordan from foreign influence and establish the power of the monarchy, a supporter of Hamveltai control in the nation, the Last Duke and Vordan’s spymaster Orlanko, seems to be watching Janus’s every move and actively working to foiling his maneuvers. After the grueling campaigns overseas, can Marcus, Winter, and Janus emerge victorious in the cutthroat politics of V... Read More

Film Review: The Neanderthal Man

The Neanderthal Man: Inspector Henderson goes ape

For those viewers who are wondering if actor Robert Shayne ever incarnated another role besides that of Inspector Henderson on TV's Adventures of Superman, a quick skim of his IMDb credits will reveal the answer to be a most definitive "yes." Besides playing the part of the tough-talking best friend of Clark Kent with ever-increasing frequency on that show, which ran from 1952 - '58, Shayne, it seems, has dozens upon dozens of film and TV appearances to his credit. But those fans who would like to see Shayne as the top-billed, leading-man star of a theatrically exhibited motion picture should be made aware of The Neanderthal Man, which was released by United Artists in June 1953. Despite its DVD availability today via an outfit known as Cheezy Flicks, the picture — minor  entertainment though it might be — is yet intelligently scripted, well shot, and finely acted by its la... Read More

Raven’s Strike: A solid sequel

Raven’s Strike by Patricia Briggs

Patricia Briggs’ second novel in her RAVEN DUOLOGY, Raven’s Strike, picks up where the last novel leaves off. Seraph and her family have been reunited and are back on their way toward Redern, eager to get to the bottom of the mystery that presented itself during Tier’s captivity in Taela, the capital. Namely, what does The Path, the new religion developing in the septs, have to do with Traveler’s Orders? And why are so many ordered Travelers dying, and what is happening to their powers?

This book gives us a more in-depth introduction to new characters, as well. Phoran, the Emporer, is a frightened young man when we meet him in Raven’s Shadow. Here, he has developed a backbone and has decided to accompany Tier and Seraph on t... Read More

The Graveyard Book: Raised by ghosts in a London graveyard

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman’s 2008 novel The Graveyard Book really racked up the awards, winning the British Carnegie Medal and American Newbery Medal for the best children’s book of the year, and then more surprisingly, the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Novel and Locus Award for Best YA Book. For years I have heard Gaiman’s name for various books like Stardust (which was a great film), Neverwhere, Anansi Boys, and American Gods (2002 winner of the Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, BSFA, World Fantasy, British Fantasy awards), not to mention the legendary Sandman series of graphic novels. So I figured I really needed to get with the times and read his work.

The story itself i... Read More

Raven’s Shadow: A fun, easy read with good worldbuilding

Raven’s Shadow by Patricia Briggs

Patricia Briggs’ novel Raven’s Shadow begins with a rescue and a romance. Tier, a Rederni ex-soldier, saves young Seraph, a Traveler girl, from murder at the hands of some ruffians in a tavern and a strange, dangerous man in the forest. Intrigued by this brave, foolhardy girl, Tier takes her home to his village to protect her from the forces that follow. Travelers are Briggs’ answer to Patrick Rothfuss’ Edema Ruh or Robert Jordan’s Tuatha’an... you know, your typical “gypsy” stereotype that seems to pop up in most high fantasy novels with lots of worldbuilding. In Raven’s Shadow, they are known for their innat... Read More

Use of Weapons: A dark and brooding tale of warfare, manipulation and guilt

Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks

Use of Weapons (1990) is the third published novel in Banks’ Culture series, although it is actually a rewrite of a draft written much earlier that the author claims "was impossible to comprehend without thinking in six dimensions." Well, for readers who generally dwell in just three or four dimensions, the narrative structure of Use of Weapons is fairly complex until you get used to it.

The story has two narrative tracks, one set in the present and moving forward in time (Chapter 1, 2, 3, etc), and a second track set in the past and moving backwards in time (VIII, VII, VI, etc). Both tracks focus on Cheradenine Zakalwe, a man skilled in warfare and military tactics who is recruited by a Culture agent from Special Circumstances, Diziet Sma, to be a military operative in various non-Culture societies and conflicts.

For readers of th... Read More

The Arctic Code:  A fast-paced middle-grade novel with some issues

The Arctic Code by Matthew Kirby

Matthew Kirby’s newest release, The Arctic Code, is the first book in a new MG/YA science fiction series entitled THE DARK GRAVITY SEQUENCE. Unlike some of his prior books, like The Clockwork Three and Icefall (two of my favorite reads those respective years), this one is more fully an MG work, in that it lacks that adult crossover appeal and even older, more sophisticated younger readers will find themselves questioning some of the logic of events or wishing for some more depth of character. Its target audience, however, will mostly (I guess) respond well to its fast pace, frequent tension, and especially Eleanor, the impulsive hero at the heart of the story.

The setting is a near-future Earth undergoing the b... Read More

Film Review: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

“I need a woman ‘bout twice my height, statuesque, raven-tressed, a goddess of the night.”

By the time future baby-boomer classic Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (the lack of a hyphen in the title is annoying) was released in May 1958, moviegoers in theatres and drive-ins across the U.S. had already been exposed to all sorts of radiation-induced terrors. Jump-started by the prehistoric rhedosaurus unleashed by atomic testing in 1952's The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, the trend was soon followed by another prehistoric radioactive nightmare, Gojira, and then the real onslaught began: giant ants in Them!, a giant octopus in It Came From Beneath the Sea, a giant arachnid in Tarantula, more giant insects in Beginning of the End, The Deadly Mantis and The Black Scorpion, giant mollusks in The Monster That Challenged ... Read More

Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess: The novelization works

Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess by Phil & Kaja Foglio

GIRL GENIUS is one of my favorite webcomics. I love both the art and the story. It’s about Agatha Heterodyne, the orphaned genius daughter of two famous “Sparks” who disappeared years ago. After they left, the peace and stability of Europa disintegrated after numerous mad Sparks built and let loose various mechanical constructs that tend to terrorize all the normal people. Many of these Sparks have been vying for power since the Heterodyne Boys (one is Agatha’s father and the other is her uncle) disappeared. Baron Klaus Wulfenbach, a powerful Spark who was once a friend to the legendary Heterodyne Boys, now rules most of Europa, though he’s had to resort to some rather Barbaric methods to get it under control. For years he has been collecting and keeping the children of other famous Sparks and some nobility. These kids live in luxury aboard his airship city... Read More