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Sword of Light: A new spin on Arthurian legend

Sword of Light by Katherine Roberts

Rhianna has lived her entire life on the idyllic island of Avalon, never knowing her parents or seeing anything of the world beyond the isle. But the truth comes out in Britain's darkest hour, when the wizard Merlin arrives on Avalon's shore with the body of King Arthur Pendragon, slain in battle by his nephew Mordred and missing his sword Excalibur.

Rhianna learns she is the secret daughter of Arthur and Guinevere, hidden from the world at birth and now rightful heir to Camelot's throne. It's a lot for a young girl to absorb, but when she realizes that hope for the future lies with her finding the Four Lights (the sword of light, the lance of truth, the crown of dreams and the holy grail) that could reunite the kingdom and restore her father to life, she can't wait to leave home and fulfil her rightful destiny.

Naturally it's easier said than done. She's lived a sheltered life, a... Read More

The Swarm: A longwinded build-up to an alien invasion

The Swarm by Orson Scott Card &  Aaron Johnston

Orson Scott Card's ENDERVERSE has grown to sixteen novels and counting, along with several novellas and short stories, since he published Ender’s Game in 1985 (or if you want to go back even further, since the original “Ender’s Game” short story was published in Analog magazine in 1977). Andrew Wiggin, or Ender, is the main character in only a few of these works; others focus on his brother Peter Wiggin, Ender’s protégé Bean, and other new or secondary characters from Ender’s Game. Which brings us to Mazer Rackham, the half-Māori war hero who plays a brief but pivotal role in Ender’s Game.

I... Read More

The Temple of Fire: An exciting Lost World novel for younger readers

The Temple of Fire by Francis Henry Atkins (Frank Aubrey/Fred Ashley)


As I mentioned in my review of English author Francis Henry Atkins’ third novel, The King of the Dead (1903), this was a writer who chose to hide behind a number of sobriquets, all of which featured the initials “F.A.” Those pen names were Frank Aubrey (which he used for that 1903 novel), Frank Atkins, Fenton Ash and Fred Ashley. I had hugely enjoyed the third novel by this seldom-discussed author, so eagerly jumped at the chance to try my luck at another. Fortunately, Armchair Fiction’s current 24-volume Lost World/Lost Race series has now made another of this unjustly neglected writer’s works available, namely The Templ... Read More

Fall, or Dodge in Hell: A super cool concept that eventually collapses

Fall, or Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson

Richard (“Dodge”) Forthrast, the famous and popular billionaire who created a much-loved video gaming company, unexpectedly dies during a routine medical procedure. Many years previously he had been duped into signing a contract that specified that his brain should be preserved until technology was developed that could scan and upload it to a virtual environment. He never changed his will. Unable to get out of this legal predicament, his family is forced to adhere to his youthful whims.

Dodge’s niece Zula, and her daughter Sophia, who remembers her great-uncle with great fondness, are determined to be part of the creation and evolution of the virtual space where the brains of rich dead people go. Unfortunately, they have a rival — Elmo Shepherd, the man who owns the company that’s got Dodge’s brain. He’s a zealot who’s anxious to create the virtual world as fast as possible... Read More

The Song of Rhiannon: Problems with the source material

The Song of Rhiannon by Evangeline Walton

The Song of Rhiannon (1972), the third volume in Evangeline Walton’s MABINOGION TETRALOGY, begins with Manawyddan, son of the sea god, haunted by grief and feeling directionless after the events of The Children of Llyr. (I haven’t read The Children of Llyr, but I have read “Branwen Daughter of Llyr,” the medieval Welsh tale on which it is based. It features a Red Wedding’s worth of deaths.) His friend Pryderi, prince of Dyfed, gives him new purpose in life by offering him a home at his palace and the chance to court Pryderi’s widowed mother, Rhiannon.

The Song of Rhiannon is based on the... Read More

This Body’s Not Big Enough for the Both of Us: A meta-fictional roller coaster

This Body’s Not Big Enough for the Both of Us by Edgar Cantero

This Body’s Not Big Enough for the Both of Us (2019), by Edgar Cantero, is a metafictional roller coaster ride in which the safety bar that holds you into your seat occasionally turns into licorice whips else or disappears completely.

One definition of metafiction is a form of fiction that comments on fictional and literary elements by self-consciously departing from literary conventions within the narrative. If you like metafiction, you will get a kick out of Cantero’s story, and you will probably especially enjoy the opening, which restarts four times, I think, utilizes screenplay format, and has sentences like this one:
She wandered in like a fairy-tale top model into a CGI forest, a flutter of long skirts and flaming red hair kiting be... Read More

A Green and Ancient Light: Beautifully written, gently melancholy

A Green and Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin

A war is raging, and a young boy is sent to spend the summer with his grandmother in her small country village. His life changes forever when she decides to rescue a downed enemy pilot and nurse him back to health. While helping her tend to the injured man, the boy also meets Mr. Girandole, a faun, who was once his grandmother’s love and is still her dear friend.

She knows just the place to conceal the pilot while he convalesces: a crooked little tower in an overgrown sculpture garden in the woods. Throughout the summer, the boy explores the garden, which was built long ago by an eccentric Duke who lost his beloved wife. The garden is reputed to contain a riddle that, if answered, will open a door to Faery.

A Green and Ancient Light (2016) is a beautifully written, gently melancholy tale. The pace is perhaps too slow at the start, with a lot... Read More

The Weapon Makers: The Isher weapon shops shift from defense to offense

The Weapon Makers by A.E. van Vogt


The Weapon Makers (1943), currently nominated for a 1944 Retro Hugo award, is the sequel to the better-known The Weapon Shops of Isher. As discussed in my review of The Weapon Shops of Isher, A.E. van Vogt was fond of creating fix-up novels based on his earlier works, and the creation and publication history of both of these novels in his EMPIRE OF ISHER duology is complicated. The Weapon Shops of Isher was published in its final form in 1951, several years after The Weapon Makers, but The Weapon Makers is set several years after The We... Read More

Generation Robot: A Century of Science Fiction, Fact, and Speculation

Generation Robot: A Century of Science Fiction, Fact, and Speculation by Terri Favro

In Generation Robot: A Century of Science Fiction, Fact, and Speculation (2019), Terri Favro mixes journalistic research, speculative fiction, and memoir, along with a series of pop culture sidebars to create an engaging if sometimes frustrating look at the history of technology that led to our current hopes for true AI and Jetson-like robot.

Favro uses a relatively broad definition of “robot,” which I confess threw me a bit now and then, though it was easy enough to recalibrate my own pre-conceived concept and go along as she looked at driverless cars, smart refrigerators, and even elevators. Those looking for the more narrow and probably more typical sort of robot needn’t worry, though. Favro hits those as well, particularly in the latter chapters (including one on sex robots).

The memoir strand is ... Read More

Mary Poppins: Perhaps not what you were expecting

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

Having recently seen Saving Mr. Banks, a film that purports to examine the strained relationship between author P.L. Travers and film-maker Walt Disney when it came to adapting Mary Poppins for the big screen, it was only natural that I finally got around to my long overdue reading of the classic children's story Mary Poppins.

Having grown up with the Disney film, it's quite shocking to realize how little one resembles the other. Of course, I knew there would be significant differences — the film is filled with animation and musical numbers, for a start. But I was surprised by how many of the most iconic elements of the Disney film are completely absent from the novel: there is no line of potential governesses being swept away by the East Wind, no "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," no dancing chimney s... Read More

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath: A nice blend of horror and beauty

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft

Randolph Carter keeps dreaming of a beautiful unknown city which he is aching to visit. After begging the gods to show him the way and receiving no answer, he sets out on a dream-quest to find it. The priests tell him that nobody knows where the city is and that the journey will kill him, but Randolph Carter is not deterred. His quest takes him through fantastic and mostly dangerous places where he meets strange friends and enemies. All the while he can tell that the gods who don’t belong to Earth are trying to stop him from discovering Unknown Kadath.

Anyone who has read anything by H.P. Lovecraft will be familiar with his style, and it’s on full display in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1943). Lovecraft excelled at invoking a sense of terror and dread as he described the... Read More

The Ophiuchi Hotline: Full of interesting ideas

The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley

Dr. Lilo Alexandr-Calypso, a brilliant geneticist who lives on the moon, has broken the law by fiddling with the human genome. Just as she’s about to be executed, she is saved by a group of vigilantes who want to use her skills to help them free the Earth from the alien invaders who’ve taken over and kicked the humans off.

Lilo doesn’t want to serve anyone, but their leader, a former president of Earth, has captured a clone of her and says that either she or the clone will be executed for Lilo’s crime. It doesn’t seem right for the clone to live on, so Lilo agrees to participate, thinking she’ll escape. She’s taken to a secret hideout located on a Jovian moon and set to work for the Free Earthers. She doesn’t like the work, which involves experiments designed to discover how to kill the invading aliens, but every time she escapes (or dies trying), she just gets cloned again. Now ... Read More

Bonfires and Broomsticks: Time-traveling with the magic bed-knob

Bonfires and Broomsticks by Mary Norton

In Bonfires and Broomsticks (1947), part two of Mary Norton’s BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS duology, it's two years after events of the first book, The Magic Bed-Knob. The three young siblings, Carey, Charles and Paul, get the chance to leave London and spend the summer in Bedfordshire with their spinster friend, Miss Price, who was a witch in training. And they still have the magic bed-knob that enables them to fly through time and space on Paul's old bed, which is now in Miss Price's bedroom! Good magical times ahead!

Or maybe not: Miss Price, while pleased to see them, has decided that being a witch is a Bad Idea, and she's given up magic. But, the children argue, almost anything is fine in moderation, and they never did get the chan... Read More

The Purple Sapphire: The great race

The Purple Sapphire by John Taine

In the Rare Book Room in NYC bookstore extraordinaire The Strand there has resided, for quite some time now, a volume that I have greatly wanted to acquire. The book in question is Scottish author John Taine’s very first novel, The Purple Sapphire, which was first released by E. P. Dutton & Co. as a hardcover in 1924 … the same year that Dutton released Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin’s now-classic dystopian book We. The Strand edition is this very Dutton original, made even more collectible due to its nicely preserved dust ja... Read More

A Red-Rose Chain: Some pacing issues

A Red-Rose Chain by Seanan McGuire

This is one of my favorite of Chris McGrath’s covers for the OCTOBER DAYE series, and it’s one of my favorite titles too, so it pains me to say that this isn’t one of my favorite books in the series. A Red-Rose Chain (2015) suffers from some pacing issues and didn’t quite knock my socks off like The Winter Long did.

The kingdom of Silences, analogous to mortal Portland, declares war on the Mists. By faerie law, the Mists has three days to try to make peace instead. Toby annoys Queen Windermere at exactly the wrong moment, and her punishment is to travel to Silences as an ambassador.

There’s a good deal of setup for this, followed by several chapters of Toby and her chosen family discussing who should go along on the trip and... Read More

NOS4A2: Skip the show and read the book

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. Everyone on the same page? Okay… Hill has delivered a deeply satisfying and literate novel in NOS4A2. He is absolutely his own man, and he’s very good. But he’s also picked up some tricks from his father. He writes children well, especially those that have some unique ability. In this case, Victoria McQueen has a special gift: she can find lost things. And this skill tends to transport her to wherever those lost things happen to be.

The book is most successful in its character development. Many a page is dedicated to the growth and transformation of Vic McQueen’s personality, as we see her grow from a young girl overwhelmed by her unique capabilities, to a mother equally as overwhelmed by h... Read More

Take a Thief: The backstory of a popular VALDEMAR character

Take a Thief by Mercedes Lackey

One of Mercedes Lackey’s most popular characters is Herald Skif, the young former thief who we met in the first two VALDEMAR trilogies (HERALDS OF VALDEMAR and MAGE WINDS). In Take a Thief (2001), a stand-alone prequel novel, Lackey gives us his backstory.

It starts as so many of her stories do. Skif is a young orphaned boy who is basically a slave to his cruel uncle. The uncle owns a dirty and dilapidated tavern where, for a penny, miserly clientele can purchase the cheapest (and vilest) ale and stew in the city. Skif has lots of chores there but he tries to be out from under his uncle’s eye whenever he can. Most mornings he attends classes to learn reading and math, and he spends his afternoons stealing food from rich people... Read More

Clash by Night: An inventive mixed bag of a novella

Clash by Night by C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner

Clash by Night (1943) , by the wife-husband team of C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner, is an odd bit of a bird, feeling less like a smoothie that blends together different story types and writerly styles and more like a salad where you can easily spot the tomatoes, greens, peppers, etc. Uneven overall, but it does have its good points.

The opening gives us the setting quite directly, with an unknown narrator of the future telling us, “We are on Venus, nine hundred years ago, beneath the Sea of Shoals.” Earth has been destroyed by atomic war and in the 200 years since that catastrophe, humanity has continued on Venus, with most of the people (“civilians”) living in Keeps (underwater domes) and various mercenary... Read More

The Silver God of the Orang Hutan: Sladangs and leeches and crocs, oh, my!

The Silver God of the Orang Hutan by David Douglas

As many of you here at FanLit may have already discerned, this reader is a huge fan of English author H. Rider Haggard, and at this point I have read 45 of the man’s 58 novels. Haggard, for good reason, has been called “The Father of the Lost Race Novel,” and his influence on that genre has been enormous, casting a very long shadow across the decades since he came out with the triple whammy of King Solomon’s Mines, its sequel Allan Quatermain, and the seminal fantasy She, all in the mid-1880s. Haggard has had many imitators, many of whom have been forgotten over the intervening decades. Happily, a new series from the Medford, Oregon-based publisher Armchair Fiction is now avail... Read More

Dreadful Sanctuary: The Norman conquest

Dreadful Sanctuary by Eric Frank Russell

As I have mentioned elsewhere, there are several writers who never seem to let me down, and in that elite group, English author Eric Frank Russell must surely be included. The Best of Eric Frank Russell (1978) was my initial exposure to this Golden Age great (reputedly, legendary editor John W. Campbell’s favorite contributor), and it was, for me, among the best of the 21 Best of… titles in the justly celebrated Ballantine series. I had also loved Men, Martians and Machines (1955), which can almost be seen as a warm-up for Star Trek; Read More

The Quantum Magician: A fun, light heist novel

The Quantum Magician by Derek Künsken

Derek Künsken’s The Quantum Magician (2018) is kind of like one of those summer movies where if where you don’t think too much about what is happening, and aren’t looking for deep, moving character studies, you’re more than perfectly happy to glide along the surface and enjoy the ride as things go boom. And though, like a number of those same movies, The Quantum Magician goes on a bit too long, for the most part I happily skated through. And yes, things did go boom.

We’re set centuries in the future when humanity has colonized the stars thanks to a set of stable wormholes left behind by a long-dead civilization. These gates are fiercely, jealously controlled by a small number of powerful, dominating groups such as the Congregate and the Anglo-Spanish banks. What kickstarts the action is when one “client” culture, the Sub-Sahar... Read More

One Word Kill: A tale of teens, time travel, D&D, and cancer

One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence

One Word Kill (2019) is a tale of 1980s British teenagers, time travel (bonus: with branching universes), Dungeons & Dragons, and cancer. As the first book in Mark Lawrence’s IMPOSSIBLE TIMES trilogy, it sets things up nicely, and we’re all three looking forward to the next two novellas.

We know that the first-person narrator of the story has cancer ― leukaemia, to be precise ― from the very first paragraph of the story. Fifteen-year-old Nick is something of a genius, though his smarts don’t show much yet except in his choice of reading material during chemotherapy sessions. He has a group of close friends with whom he plays Dungeons & Dragons every Saturday, which group has recently been augmented by the addition of ― gasps of a... Read More

Creatures of Want and Ruin: Original and entertaining

Creatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer

At first glance, based on the title and cover art, Molly Tanzer’s Creatures of Want and Ruin (2018) looks and sounds like it’s a sequel to her earlier novel Creatures of Will and Temper, but it’s not. The stories have different characters and settings, so I’m going to treat Creatures of Want and Ruin as a stand-alone novel.

During prohibition, Ellie West is a bootlegger in Amityville, a village on New York’s Long Island. Due to her father’s declining health and inability to work at his trade as a fisherman, her family struggles to make ends meet but is unwilling to accept charity. Ellie’s brother Lester, a smart young man wh... Read More

Clockwork Boys: A company of strangers begins a suicide mission

Clockwork Boys by T. Kingfisher

The plot of T. Kingfisher’s Clockwork Boys (2017) is of the “misfit company of strangers on a dangerous mission” type. Their country has been invaded by the so-called Clockwork Boys, nearly unstoppable, 10-foot-tall centaur-like creatures who are laying waste to the countryside. (I like the allusion to the out-of-control gang of boys in A Clockwork Orange.) The Dowager Queen has previously sent soldiers and spies to distant Anuket City, from which the Clockwork Boys regularly emerge, to investigate and try to stop these artificially created creatures, but these prior groups have all disappeared without a trace. So the Dowager has now landed on the idea of sending a group of criminals, perhaps ... Read More

Deep Roots: A successful sequel

Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys

Deep Roots (2018), a finalist for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, is the sequel to Ruthanna EmrysWinter Tide. This Lovecraft-inspired story is about a race of Americans living in the 1940s who worship, and are related to, the eldritch gods. They are long-lived and, when they eventually mature, they may grow gills and return to the sea.

Most of the People of the Water were exterminated or dispersed when the American government, spooked by their foreignness, rounded them up and put them in detention camps. As far as Aphra and her brother Caleb know, they are the only ones who survived.

Now, with the help of the FBI, Aphra and Caleb are trying to track down any lost re... Read More