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The Nexus: A very fine novel by a new sci-fi talent

The Nexus by Richard Fazio

On those occasions when I have read sci-fi, I've tended to stick to the familiar brand-name authors; tried-and-true old favorites such as Asimov, Bester, Bradbury, Clarke, Dick, Heinlein, Norton, Silverberg, Williamson and the like. But a recent peru... Read More

The Quillan Games: Another exciting PENDRAGON story

The Quillan Games by D.J. MacHale

The Quillan Games is the seventh novel in D.J. MacHale’s PENDRAGON series. Bobby is now on Quillan, one of the most unappealing places we’ve been to so far. Here a large corporation called BLOK (think Wal-Mart) has price-busted everyone else out of business until BLOK basically owns and operates the entire territory. Everyone is poor (BLOK pays low wages) and they are merely surviving. But there is a way to get money. Kids who are willing to risk it, or who are sold off by their families, can play the Quillan Games. They live in a mansion and are treated like royalty... as long as they keep winning. The games are often deadly and eventually, if they keep winning, they’re bound to end up in a fight to the death.

The rest of the populace bets on the games, hoping to supplement their tiny incomes. They watch the games from huge screens that have been e... Read More

The Rivers of Zadaa: MacHale gets this series back on track

The Rivers of Zadaa by D.J. MacHale

With The Rivers of Zadaa, the sixth book in his PENDRAGON series for young adults, D.J. MacHale gets the series back on track after a disappointingly preachy fifth book. If you haven’t read the previous books, but plan to, I advise you to read no further in this review. It’s impossible to talk about The Rivers of Zadaa without spoiling some of the plot of the previous books.

This time Bobby and Saint Dane are battling it out on Zadaa, Loor’s home planet. Saint Dane is trying to trigger chaos by causing strife between the territory’s two main tribes, the Rokador and the Batu. The Batu, the tribe to which Loor belongs, live on the sunny surface of the planet while the Rokador live in tunnels underground. The tribes used to have a synergistic relationship, but now they are on the verge of civil war because most of the wate... Read More

Midnight Blue-Light Special: Distant relatives and dancing mice

Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire

Midnight Blue-Light Special, Book Two in Seanan McGuire’s INCRYPTID series, wraps up some plot points, deepens some characters and expands the world of the stories. McGuire takes the expected “The Covenant Strikes Back” plot, but incorporates a few nice twists along the way.

The Covenant of St. George is a group dedicated to a “scorched earth” policy toward magical creatures, working hard to exterminate any cryptid race, no matter how harmless or, in some cases, helpful to humanity it might be. Several generations ago, the Healy family, loyal covenant members, realized that this approach was short-sighted and wrong. They left the Covenant and came to the New World. The Covenant branded them traitors and issued “kill on sight” orders. Ve... Read More

Fantastic Voyage: People inside a submarine inside a person

Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov

Jan Benes, a brilliant scientist from the Other Side, has knowledge that can deliver America a military advantage. Benes has decided to defect, but when the Americans smuggle Benes into the country, They shoot him. Though Benes survives, an inoperable blood clot threatens to end his life. But wait! There may be a new technology that could allow surgeons to remove the blood clot from inside Benes’ body.

Miniaturization is that secret new technology. Controlled by the Combined Miniature Defense Force (CMDF), miniaturization will allow “four men and one woman” in a submarine armed with surgical lasers to enter Benes’ blood stream. From within his arteries, the team hopes to destroy the clot, saving Benes’ life and delivering the Americans the technological advantages Benes has smuggled from the Other Side.

Fantastic Voyage is primarily told from the p... Read More

California: Mid-apocalyptic social commentary

California by Edan Lepucki

In Edan Lepucki’s debut novel California, published in 2014, Cal and Frida are a young couple trying to eke out a living in a post-apocalyptic Californian wilderness. Their relationship has fared relatively well during their two years of near-isolation, but the intrusion of strangers — first a small family, then Frida's unexpected pregnancy, and later a commune with its own deep problems and secrets — reveals severe cracks in their seemingly perfect marriage.

Perhaps post-apocalyptic isn't the right descriptor for the time setting. "Mid-apocalyptic" might be better, as the downfall of global society is due to neither nuclear winter, nor global pandemic, nor any of the currently fashionable world-killers. What Lepucki has created is a logical and refreshing extension of present-day problems into the year 2050, resulting in an America where heating oil, el... Read More

Beyond Thirty: A must-read for all ERB completists

Beyond Thirty by Edgar Rice Burroughs

By 1916, Edgar Rice Burroughs was already a popular and regular contributor to the pulp periodicals of the day. Though a late starter — his first work, the John Carter story "Under the Moons of Mars," was serialized in All-Story Magazine in 1912, when Burroughs was 36 — his output increased rapidly, to the point that by 1916, he had already seen the first three Carter works, the first two Tarzan titles, the first Pellucidar entry (At the Earth's Core), plus such various works as The Eternal Savage, The Monster Men and The Cave Girl, all printed in that same magazine. But despite his reputation at All-Story, he still managed to get his manuscript for ... Read More

The Never War: Subtle teaching moments and a real emotional impact

The Never War by D.J. MacHale

Note: Contains spoilers for previous PENDRAGON novels.

In The Never War, the third book in D.J. MacHale’s PENDRAGON series, Bobby is now 15 years old and is gaining experience as a Traveler. His job is to protect Earth and other territories of Halla (which includes all peoples, places, and times that have ever existed) from Saint Dane, the super duper evil villain whose goal is to increase chaos everywhere. Somehow, the chaos gives him power.

By the end of book two, The Lost City of Faar, Bobby has successfully foiled Saint Dane’s attempts to throw the territories of Denduron and Cloral into chaos. Now he and Spader, the Traveler from Cloral, are following Saint Dane to the next territory: First Earth. When th... Read More

New Amsterdam: Forensic sorcery

New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear

New Amsterdam is billed as “the hardcover debut” from Elizabeth Bear, who had been winning awards for her short stories and novels before this work was published in 2007. Though not exactly described as such, New Amsterdam is a compilation of six short stories, each connected to and increasingly dependent upon the others as the overarching plot progresses. While each story is ostensibly a mystery which requires investigation and the use of forensic sorcery in order to arrive at each solution, characters and world-building are the primary focus of Bear’s writing. For the most part, this works well, though there are some pieces which could have benefitted from closer authorial scrutiny, and I wish the concept of “forensic sorcery” had been brought to the fore. Read More

The Story of the Amulet: A charming classic

The Story of the Amulet by Edith Nesbit

The Story of the Amulet is a sequel to Edith Nesbit’s famous story collection, Five Children and It, in which five siblings discover a wish-granting sand fairy named The Psammead. Each story in Five Children and It tells of a single day when the children ask the Psammead for something they think they want. Their wishes always backfire and give Nesbit the opportunity to humorously illustrate the adage “be careful what you wish for.” At the end of Five Children and It, the siblings have learned their lesson and promise to never ask the sand fairy for another wish, but they mention that they hope to meet the Psammead again someday. And indeed they do in The Story of the Amulet. The children wander in... Read More

Aurora: Overly long but powerful

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson, has major issues with pacing, characterization, and to some extent, plotting. Which would seem to make this review a no-brainer “not recommended.” But if one can overlook issues of plot, character, and pace (and granted, that’s a Grand Canyon-level overlook), there’s a lot here to often admire and sometimes enjoy, and a reader who perseveres will, I think, not only be happy they did so, but will also find Aurora lingering in their mind for some time. (Note: While I don’t think anything revealed ahead will mar the reading experience, it’s pretty nigh impossible to discuss this book substantively without some plot spoilers. So fair warning.)

Generations ago, a starship left Earth with plans to set up a colony ... Read More

Earth Abides: Not with a bang, but a whimper…

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides (1949) won the International Fantasy Award and was selected as one of David Pringle’s Best 100 SF Novels, but I’m guessing many SFF readers have never heard of it. You may have heard of pastoral SF (ala Clifford Simak), and this book may be best classified as post-holocaust pastoral SF, perhaps even "bucolic SF" (similar books include Leigh Bracket's Long Tomorrow and Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon). In Earth Abides, civilization is wiped out by a mysterious and never-explained virus, but our intrepid protagonist Isherwood Williams ("Ish" to his buddies) makes the best of a primitive existence, first surviving alone by scavenging from the bountiful remains of grocery stores, hardware shops, and gas stations, and eventually gathering together a few stragglers t... Read More

Surface Detail: Another wild ride in Iain Banks’ far-future universe

Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks

Surface Detail (2010), the penultimate CULTURE novel, is another wild ride in Iain Banks’ far-future universe. Interestingly (or at least I think so), this novel deals with the afterlife, as does the final CULTURE novel, The Hydrogen Sonata, which was published several months before Banks’ unexpected death of gallbladder cancer in 2013.

Though speculation about what happens beyond death is a heavy subject, Banks deals with it flippantly in Surface Detail (and also to a lesser extent in The Hydrogen Sonata). The premise here is that Hell is simply a virtual reality computer simulation. That’s an interesting idea that becomes pretty funny when you consider that if hell is an MMORPG, then someone must be “hosting Hell” and others are trying to hack it. The ... Read More

Chimpanzee: A haunting imagination plagued with off-putting style

Chimpanzee by Darin Bradley

In the midst of a severe depression, where government officials are obsessed with micromanaging everything they can lay their hands on in the name of efficiency and the public good, Benjamin Cade loses his teaching job and finds himself, along with the majority of the population, unemployed. Unable to pay back his student loans, Ben must face the logical conclusion, and Darin Bradley's haunting extrapolation, of viewing education as a product to be bundled and sold: His degrees in literature and literary theory will have to be repossessed.

In Darin Bradley’s debut Noise, which I reviewed previously, the US has fully collapsed in on itself. In Chimpanzee, the country stands at the edge of a very sharp knife, with chronic unemployment a reality and people having to depend on government hando... Read More

Brave New World: Be careful what you wish for

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

We all know Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World as a classic dystopian tale of a world bereft of conflict, pain, and hardship — but also lacking individuality, free will, and intellectual thought. You were probably forced to read it in high school (I somehow missed it) and if you were a normal teen it must be have been either very weird or strangely appealing (unlimited free drugs and sex, a carefree life, etc.). Granted, it's a brilliant critique of the early socialist utopias penned by H.G. Wells, after which Europe was engulfed in World War I and the Russian Revolution. So it was with much cynicism that Huxley must have written his story in 1932 to debunk the naive fantasies socialists and libertarians had that humanity would solve all economic and social ills and create a perfect society.
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