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The City of Gold and Lead: Will infiltrates the Tripod city

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.

To do this, they’ll need information. Th... Read More

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

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 Grossman’s novel ... Read More

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

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

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 has been decimated, most government and civil structures have bee... Read More

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

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 halt before it was completed. Arthur Cluny’... Read More

Quarantine: Cool quantum mechanics, pedestrian plot

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 expect too much galaxy-spanning space travel or c... Read More

Queen of Candesce: Characterization is better in this sequel

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 world that Schroeder built and I remember that... Read More

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

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 new.

Having read all seven vo... Read More

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

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 black-and-white world of Basin City itself. In... Read More

The Bridge: Lucid dreams with a Scottish flair

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’ novels, who is a master of British and Sc... Read More

Grim Tidings: A satisfying read

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 fighting a rebellious reaper named Owen, with... Read More

Wednesdays in the Tower: Secrets of a magical castle

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 with anyone else in her family: the tower room... Read More

Last First Snow: Another enjoyable installment in THE CRAFT SEQUENCE

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 are reading about them in the past. The coo... Read More

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

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

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 the peasant class. On his way to the Esterhaza... Read More

Once Upon a Time in the North: Lee Scoresby meets Iorek Byrnison

Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman

Lee Scoresby, a young Texan aeronaut, and his dæmon, Hester the rabbit, land their balloon in Novy Odense, a frontier harbor in the North. Lee is all but broke, so he goes into town looking for business. There’s no work for an aeronaut, but there is a lot of trouble waiting for an honorable man. Naturally, Lee and Hester wind up in the middle of it.

It turns out that the Larsen Manganese, a mining company, has allied with Ivan Demitrovich Poliakov, a mayoral candidate, as part of their scheme to control of the North. The company’s guards are throwing their weight around Novy Odense, which disrupts honest trade, while Poliakov incites hate against the bears, including one Iorek Byrnison, which distracts from the Northern takeover. Lee winds up siding with the bears and businessmen, even if it means risking a gunfight against Poliakov and the mining company’s agents.
Read More

The Wildings: Exciting adventure with a cats-eye view

The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy

I was telling my friend about my story-in-the-making (it’s about an underground colony of cats!) and he said, “Have you read The Wildings, by Nilanjana Roy? You have to.” Wanting a model for my story — and also intrigued by the premise, a colony of cats in Delhi — I bought it immediately.

The Wildings follows a cat colony in the Delhi neighborhood of Nizamuddin as they encounter two of their biggest challenges in living memory: the appearance of a new and oddly powerful “Sender,” and the incursion of a group of ferocious feral cats into their territory.

The Sender, a cat who can communicate telepathically with other cats and form links for group communication, turns out to be Mara, a kitten who lives with Big Feet (humans) and who is afraid to come out into the world she navigates via her mind. Although t... Read More

Word Puppets: This entertaining collection shows the development of the writer

Word Puppets by Mary Robinette Kowal

Word Puppets is a collection of Mary Robinette Kowal’s short fictions. Fans of her GLAMOURISTS series will find not a single one in its pages, and many of these tales are science fiction, with several stories set on Mars. Patrick Rothfuss provides a humorous introduction, and tells us that these nineteen works are in chronological order. This gives the reader a chance to see Kowal’s development as a story-teller.

I am not going to review all nineteen. I will discuss the stories I liked best or found most interesting, with one exception; there is one story that was not successful for me.

Kowal has created a story universe in which the people of Earth colonized... Read More

Wrath of the Bloodeye: Tom gets a new master

Wrath of the Bloodeye by Joseph Delaney

Wrath of the Bloodeye is the fifth book in Joseph Delaney’s very popular LAST APPRENTICE (or WARDSTONE CHRONICLES) series for middle graders. This book has also been released in other countries, such as those in the UK, under the title The Spook’s Mistake.

Tom has been John Gregory’s apprentice for a couple of years now. In the last book, Attack of the Fiend, three witch clans worked together to summon the Fiend (the Devil). Now he roams the earth and would like to kill Tom because the rumor is that Tom will be the most powerful spook in history. Or maybe it would be better for the Fiend if he befriends Tom...
Call me what you will, Tom. I have many names... But none adequately convey my true nature. I... Read More

Silver in the Blood: Gilded Age debutantes’ adventures in Transylvania

Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George

In 1897, seventeen year old, Louisa (Lou) and Dacia, cousins, close friends, and high society debutantes, are excitedly traveling from New York City to Bucharest, Romania for an extended stay with their Florescu family relatives, on their mothers' sides. Dacia is traveling with her mother’s sister, Aunt Kate, while Lou is traveling along a separate route to Romania with both of her parents.

But their eagerly anticipated trip starts to go wrong. Dacia made the mistake of flirting too much with a young man in London, and now Aunt Kate is restricting her every move. Wolves haunt their train ride to Bucharest and block it temporarily by leaving something unmentionable on the track; a man whom Dacia has never before seen appears and kisses Aunt Kate in a “scandalous” manner. A stranger accosts Lou on the boat to France and accuses her of being "the Wing." And once they reach Bucharest, th... Read More

Arkwright: A solid tale of a persistent science fiction trope

Arkwright by Allen Steele

The concept of a generation ship has circulated in science and science fiction probably since the late 1920s and certainly since the 40’s. The idea is based on an assumption that light speed is a space travel barrier that won’t be overcome and so travel to even the nearest stars will be a journey of multiple generations. The ships that make such a journey will need to be large and need to solve problems of self-sustenance.

Allen Steele delves into this space travel theme with his aptly titled Arkwright, so named after fictional sci-fi scion Nathan Arkwright, whom Steele positions alongside Heinlein, Asimov, and Read More

Patternmaster: Patternists and Clayarks battle for dominance

Patternmaster by Octavia Butler

Patternmaster (1976) was written first in Octavia Butler’s PATTERNIST quartet, but comes last in chronology. It takes place several hundred years after Clay’s Ark (1984), back in the Forsythe, CA territory where the Patternists settled down earlier. Society remains scattered and non-industrial, and power is divided between the Patternists, a network of linked human telepaths who can kill at a distance, and the Clayarks, now completely transformed into intelligent, sphinx-like animals with extreme strength, speed, and agility but no special mental powers. The losers in this future world are the mutes, non-pyschic humans who are treated more like pets or servants by the Patternists.

The story centers on Teray, a young Patternist who is o... Read More

Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee

Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee

Batman: Hush (2002-2003) is a story arc that appeared originally as Batman #608-619. I first saw it as a bound collection at Barnes & Noble when my daughter was shopping for Christmas presents. I knew nothing about internal chronology, but I picked it up and was just stunned by the glossy, dynamic, sensual and powerful artwork of Jim Lee. This guy is really something else, I can understand why he is so popular.

Before reading Batman: Hush I did my homework and read some core Batman titles beforehand: Frank Miller’s Batman: Year... Read More

Mind of My Mind: The rise of the first Patternmaster

Mind of My Mind by Octavia Butler

Mind of My Mind (1977) was written second in Octavia Butler’s 4-book PATTERNIST series, and comes second in chronology. However, I think it is less-polished than Wild Seed (1980), which comes earlier in chronology but was written later, after she had more fully developed her ideas about psionic powers, power/control, and telepaths vs. mutes. It’s tough to decide whether readers should approach this series in the order it was written, in order to see Butler’s development as a writer, or by internal chronology, to follow the PATTERNIST story at the expense of uneven writing style/quality.

Mind of My Mind takes place about a century after the events of Wild Seed. Doro, the immortal b... Read More

The Pride of Chanur: What does it mean to be an alien?

The Pride of Chanur by C.J. Cherryh

Cherryh’s The Pride of Chanur combines space opera with some gritty “hard-ish” SF elements in the beginning of a saga that deals with the political and economic ramifications of first contact. In this first volume of the CHANUR SAGA we follow the exploits of a crew of Hani (lion-like aliens) on the eponymous merchant space freighter The Pride of Chanur. Expecting nothing more than a routine run across their trade routes, Pyanfar Chanur, captain of the Pride, imagines the worst trouble she’s likely to have to deal with is her headstrong niece Hilfy. Of course she’s wrong and what was proving to be a rather boring trip becomes deadly as they run across trouble in the form of an alien stowaway while they are docked at the Meetpoint space station.

The reader is thrust into the middle of things which quickly come to a head as Cher... Read More