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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

Soon I Will Be Invincible: Sometimes Postmodernism gives me a headache

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Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

Sometimes post-modernist novels, like time-travel novels, give me a headache. It’s because I’m confused. Is the writer subverting expectations with the ending, or it is just that they can’t wrap up a story? And that really shallow character, is that a flaw, or a comment on society’s view of that “type?” Did the novelist really just lift points and themes wholesale from other works because it was easy, or this is an “in-depth analysis and critique of mainstream culture’s tropes and values?”

So, sometimes these kinds of books give me a headache. On the other hand, the 3D glasses at the cinema give me a headache too, but sometimes I still want to watch something in 3D. It’s a price I pay.

I’m willing to pay that price for Austin ... Read More

The White Mountains: One of the first dystopian novels for kids

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The White Mountains by John Christopher

The White Mountains, the first book in John Christopher’s TRIPODS series for children, has been sitting on my TBR list (and in my Audible library) forever. I was finally inspired to pick it up when Gary K. Wolfe, in his series of lectures entitled How Great Science Fiction Works, mentioned the book as probably the first YA dystopian novel (though Middle Grade is more accurate, I’d say).

The White Mountains was published in 1967 and takes place in an alternate version of our world where aliens called Tripods have conquered Earth and enslaved humans. (These tripods were inspired by the Martians in H.G. Wells’ Read More

The Junkie Quatrain: Four connected zombie stories

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The Junkie Quatrain by Peter Clines

I don’t read much zombie fiction, but I enjoyed Peter Clines14, and his The Junkie Quatrain has been sitting in my Audible library for two years, so I decided to give it a try. It contains four inter-connected zombie stories that are actually the same story told from four different perspectives. Each story starts with the sentence “Six months ago, the world ended” and proceeds to tell of events that have happened since a virus outbreak in China six months previously. Those who’ve been infected quickly lose their humanity and become mindless killer “Junkies” who prey on other humans. They don’t live long. The world’s population ... Read More

Juniper Time: A 1970s “problem story” novel with an iconic feminist protagonist

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Juniper Time by Kate Wilhelm

Juniper Time, by Kate Wilhelm, was published in 1979, her first novel after her Hugo-Award winning book Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang. Once again, Wilhelm was interested in ecological collapse. This time, the disaster is a growing drought and the desertification of large parts of world, specifically the US, throwing the country into economic depression and political chaos. Against this backdrop, two people who share a common past struggle to change the present, with surprising results.

Jean Brighton’s father was a famous astronaut and the “face” of the first international space station, Alpha. Sadly, when Jean was still a child, cost-overruns and accidents — or perhaps sabotage — brought the project to a h... Read More

Quarantine: Cool quantum mechanics, pedestrian plot

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Quarantine by Greg Egan

Greg Egan is an Australian writer of hard science fiction who specializes in mathematics, epistemology, quantum theory, posthumanism, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, etc. When you pick up one of his books, you know you will be getting a fairly dense crash course in some pretty outlandish scientific and mathematical ideas, with the plot and characters coming second.

The cover blurb advertises Quarantine as “A Novel of Quantum Catastrophe,” and the back describes “an impenetrable gray shield that slid into place around the solar system on the night of November 15, 2034” causing riots and chaos. However, the book mainly takes place in Perth and New Hong Kong, which was relocated to Australia after the Chinese took over. So don’t expec... Read More

Queen of Candesce: Characterization is better in this sequel

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Queen of Candesce by Karl Schroeder

“I’m someone infinitely more capable than a mere heir to a backward nation on this backward little wheel.”

Warning: This review contains a minor spoiler for Sun of Suns, the previous volume in the VIRGA series, but the same spoiler is in the publisher’s blurb for the book, so maybe it’s not really a spoiler after all.

Queen of Candesce is the second book in Karl Schroeder’s VIRGA series. It’s been four years since I read the first book, Sun of Suns, so I don’t remember all of the details of that story, but I do vividly recall the fascinating wo... Read More

Sin City (Vol. 7): Hell and Back by Frank Miller

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Sin City (Vol. 7): Hell and Back by Frank Miller

Hell and Back is the seventh and final volume in Frank Miller’s SIN CITY series. The artwork is still dramatic, and the story and characters are hard-boiled, dark, and intense. The bad guys are nasty, and the femme fatales have curves that kill (literally, almost). Of course we have the loner anti-hero tough guy, a lethal weapon who isn’t looking for trouble, but trouble seeks him out. We’ve got all the familiar elements of a Frank Miller Sin City story. And that’s either great if you like this formula, or a bit tiresome if you were looking for something ... Read More

Sin City (Vol. 6): Booze, Broads, and Bullets by Frank Miller

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Sin City (Vol. 6): Booze, Broads, and Bullets by Frank Miller 

Booze, Broads, and Bullets is the sixth volume in Frank Miller’s SIN CITY series, and it’s a welcome return to form after the travesty known as Family Values. The artwork is excellent, the stories are tight, and there are hardly any wasted pages (other than the story Rats perhaps). It makes sense since a number of these stories were written earlier. You will find all of Frank Miller’s favorite themes on display: solitary men intent on vengeance, sultry femme fatales, vile criminal lowlifes, and the seedy bl... Read More

The Bridge: Lucid dreams with a Scottish flair

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The Bridge by Iain M. Banks

Iain M. Banks is a versatile Scottish writer, equally skilled in far-future space opera (the CULTURE series), dark contemporary novels (The Crow Road, The Wasp Factory, Walking on Glass), and a host of novels in between. The Bridge is one of his earlier books, and the late author’s personal favorite according to an interview. It was also selected by David Pringle in his Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels. I’ve had it on the TBR list for about two decades, and finally got around to listening to it on audio.

The Bridge (1986) is narrated by Peter Kenny, the highly talented narrator of most of Banks... Read More

Grim Tidings: A satisfying read

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Grim Tidings by Caitlin Kittredge

This series is intended to be read in sequence, so this review may contain some spoilers of the first book, Black Dog.

Grim Tidings is the second book in Caitlin Kittredge’s HELLHOUND CHRONICLES. Ava, the human hellhound and her lover, the necromancer Leo, can barely catch their breath before they are hurled into a new set of adventures.

Leo is now, officially, the Grim Reaper, but to fully assume his title he needs the Reaper’s Scythe. He and Ava assume it’s in Reaper Headquarters in Minneapolis, so they head there. Ava has not had a chance to tell Leo that when she was in Tartarus she made a deal with yet another entity, and before she can fix that oversight they are f... Read More

Wednesdays in the Tower: Secrets of a magical castle

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Wednesdays in the Tower by Jessica Day George

The adventures of Princess Celie, who lives in a magical castle where rooms appear, shift around and disappear again, continue in Wednesdays in the Tower, Jessica Day George’s lively sequel to Tuesdays at the Castle. Normally Castle Glower only moves its rooms around on Tuesdays, but one Wednesday Celie, heading up the stairs to go to the schoolroom for lessons, finds herself in a passageway leading to a tower room she has never seen before. And in the middle of the tower room is a huge, flame-colored egg, as large and orange as a pumpkin.

Mysteriously, the castle prevents Celie from sharing her exciting discovery wi... Read More

Last First Snow: Another enjoyable installment in THE CRAFT SEQUENCE

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Last First Snow by Max Gladstone

I will admit upfront that it took me quite a while to get through Last First Snow, the fourth book in Max Gladstone’s CRAFT SEQUENCE, which would seem weird considering how much I enjoyed the other books in the series. At this point, I am just very glad that I did read it. Gladstone may have taken a while to capture my interest, but by the end of the story, I was reminded why I like his work so much.

To begin with, the story in Last First Snow takes place before Two Serpents Rise and happens to be set in the same city, Dresediel Lex, and has characters that carry over from the future into the past. It feels that way because we read about them in the future and now we... Read More

Forty Signs of Rain: A realistic look at environmentalism and politics

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Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson

With the quality of special effects improved exponentially, the blockbuster disaster movie appeared in the 90s and hasn’t looked back. Tornadoes (Twister), meteors (Deep Impact and Armageddon), seismic activity (The Core), volcanoes (Dante’s Peak), massive weather events (The Perfect Storm), and, who can forget, Sharknado, have in one way or another tried to capitalize on the potential power of nature to earn a dollar. Opening with a reasonably plausible scientific premise (except in the case of the latter, of course), then quickly cutting to the melodrama and special effects, these films have done nothing to make people aware of the physical laws governing the actualities of our world and the true potential for catastrophe. In writing the SCIENCE IN THE CAPITOL trilogy, ... Read More

Masks and Shadows: A grand, glorious opera of a fantasy novel

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Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis

A selfish prince, a bitter royal wife, a frivolous royal mistress; a lonely widow, a plucky servant girl, a cynical singer; a dastardly plot, a dangerous elemental, a spy, an alchemist (or maybe two); royal banquets, fraught performance rehearsals, and even a bit of cross-dressing at a masquerade ball. Stephanie Burgis’s Masks and Shadows packs in all that and more; there’s Hadyn and the Enlightenment as well.

Carlo Morelli is a castrato, famed throughout Europe for his ethereal voice. Morelli does not seem to mourn the loss of his physical “manhood;” instead he thinks that his peasant parents probably saved his life, rescuing him from starvation. He has prospered from his performances, but his sympathies still lie with th... Read More