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Philippa Fisher and the Fairy’s Promise: A nice children’s tale about friendship and loyalty

Philippa Fisher and the Fairy's Promise by Liz Kessler

In this sweet conclusion to the PHILIPPA FISHER trilogy from Liz Kessler, Philippa is once again visiting her new friend Robyn, who we met in the previous book, Philippa Fisher and the Dream-Maker’s Daughter. While the girls are investigating some standing stones, Philippa is magically transported to the fairy godmother agency where her best friend and fairy godsister Daisy works. While Philippa’s parents are frantically searching for her, Philippa has learned that her mother is in grave danger. It was illegal for Daisy to give Philippa that information, but the girls are best friends and Daisy feels like she has to warn Philippa. This act of loyalty starts a whole string of unexpected events that change everybody’s lives forever and that, perhaps, may h... Read More

Tokyo Raider: A quick GRIMNOIR fix

Tokyo Raider by Larry Correia

Tokyo Raider is another of Larry Correia’s audio “shorts” in his popular GRIMNOIR CHRONICLES series. There’s not much to these little stories, but they’re hard to resist because they’re narrated by the amazingly awesome Bronson Pinchot and they give fans a little fix while we wait for another GRIMNOIR novel.

A couple of decades have passed since Warbound, and the United States and Japan are not friendly. But that doesn’t stop Japan from asking Joe Sullivan, a heavy, for help in banishing a demon summoned by the Russians to terrorize Tokyo. Joe is the son of Jake Sullivan, the protagonist of the previous GRIMNOIR CHRONICLES books. Joe’s mother is Japanese. The Imperium has built a 12-story high... Read More

The Martian Chronicles: A melancholy meditation on failed American ambitions

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

I really didn’t like The Martian Chronicles when I first read it last year. Considering its legendary status in the genre and its very high ratings by other reviewers I respect, I was really looking forward to finally reading this classic SF tale. But what I discovered was a series of loosely-connected vignettes with some connecting material that seemed fairly superfluous. While I found the first few stories actually featuring Martians very well written and intriguing, once the Martians went offstage and were replaced by an endless series of annoying, hokey Midwesterners from 1950s America, my interest died more quickly than the Martians themselves.

However, I knew I must be missing something.  This is considered one of the greatest works of mid-20th century science fiction, and is highly regarded even by the literati outside the genre. So I decided to try the aud... Read More

Undercity: An underground society with real-world social concerns

Undercity by Catherine Asaro

I’m a sucker for stories that take place underground, so when I saw the cover and title of Catherine Asaro’s new book, Undercity, I knew I had to break my commitment to not start a new series until I’d finished all the other ones first. (For the last seven months I’ve read only books that continue or finish a series I’ve previously started.)

When she was an orphaned child, Major Bhaajan used to live in the dark dirty tunnels under the city of Cries. She was one of the dust rats — the kids who run in packs through the tunnels. They live in poverty, are malnourished, don’t go to school, and have few opportunities. Bhaajan was hard-working and motivated, though. She left the Undercity when she joined the military, and she hoped never to return to Cries. Now, retired from t... Read More

A Darkling Sea: Enjoyable and raises thoughtful questions

A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias

A Darkling Sea is a fast-paced adventure set in a challenging environment. Part cat-and-mouse war-game, part first contact story, James L. Cambias’ first novel is an engrossing read.

The planet Ilmatar is sheathed in ice. Under the kilometer-thick ice crust is a cold ocean, and a group of Terran human scientists are studying it from within an undersea habitat. Ilmatar has at least one intelligent, sentient ocean-dwelling species, and the humans are under strict orders from another non-human race, the Sholen (who act as self-appointed den-mothers for everyone) not to engage with the locals. When two of the humans disregard this rule, one of them is killed by the locals. This prompts the Sholen to try to shut down the project, and the human scientists disagree. Soon things have spiraled out of control.

Cambias’ style and the structure of... Read More

Leviathan: What Would Jack Do?

Leviathan by Jack Campbell

Leviathan is the most recent book in Jack Campbell’s LOST FLEET: BEYOND THE FRONTIER series. It wouldn’t make any sense to read Leviathan before reading the ten books that precede it. This review will contain spoilers for the previous books, but not for Leviathan.

At the end of Steadfast, Admiral Blackjack Geary’s fleet had been escorting their new alien friends back to the hypernet gate to their own star system when they discovered a fleet of invisible ships laying waste to a nearby planet. They realized that a virus in their own software made the ships invisible, that the “dark ships” were nearly invulnerable, and that when Geary’s ships engaged them, they seemed to be programmed... Read More

Steadfast: Episodic and teachy, but fun

Steadfast by Jack Campbell

Steadfast is the tenth book in Jack Campbell’s LOST FLEET series and the fourth in the BEYOND THE FRONTIER subseries. You really need to read all of the previous nine LOST FLEET books to best enjoy Steadfast. I’ll assume you have. There will be spoilers for previous books in this review.

Steadfast has an episodic and teachy feel. Geary and his crew have several different missions, some more exciting than others, and each seems to give Campbell a chance to speak to something going on in our world today. I agreed with Campbell’s “lessons” more often than not, but I was always aware that the lessons were there and that Campbell was using his story as a platform.

Rec... Read More

Guardian: Trying to get home… again.

Guardian by Jack Campbell

Guardian is the ninth book in Jack Campbell’s LOST FLEET series and the third in the subseries called BEYOND THE FRONTIER. You really need to have read the previous eight books to fully understand the background, so I’ll assume you’re familiar with the series if you’re reading this review.

Admiral Blackjack Geary and his wife Tanya Desjani (captain of the warship Dauntless which is the admiral’s flagship) are once again far from home and trying to get back. Now that the war with the evil Syndicate Empire is supposed to be over, Geary’s fleet has been sent by the Alliance “beyond the frontier” to investigate the first alien species that humans had ever encountered. (It’s a little hard to believe that the Alliance government would... Read More

Swords in the Mist: Uneven volume, but “Lean Times in Lankhmar” is good

Swords in the Mist by Fritz Leiber

This is the third collection of stories in Fritz Leiber’s FAFHRD AND THE GRAY MOUSER series, and the quality is quite varied. "Lean Times in Lankhmar" (1959) and "When the Sea-King's Away" (1960) are good, swashbuckling fun, and “The Cloud of Hate” (1963) is short but creepily effective. However, "Their Mistress, the Sea" (1968) and "The Wrong Branch" (1968) are just short connective stories of little consequence. Finally, “Adept’s Gambit” (1947), is an odd fish that doesn’t really fit with the rest of the series, a novella in which Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are placed in our ancient world and sent on a long quest by Ningauble of the Seven Eyes.

The highlight is definitely “Lean Times in Lankhmar,” in which Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser part ways to settle down and give up ... Read More

Philippa Fisher and the Dream-Maker’s Daughter: Another sweet story

Philippa Fisher and the Dream-Maker's Daughter by Liz Kessler

Philippa Fisher and the Dream-Maker's Daughter is the second book in Liz Kessler’s trilogy about Philippa Fisher, a lonely 11 year old girl with eccentric hippie parents. When we met her in the first book, Philippa Fisher and the Fairy Godsister, she had come to the attention of the fairy godmothers because her best friend had recently moved away and she was sad. A young inexperienced fairy named Daisy was assigned to grant Philippa three wishes. Both Philippa and Daisy learned a lot and became best friends. But Daisy had to go back to the fairy organization after the case was over.

Now it’s summer and Philippa and her family are going on vacation. Daisy has been assigned to take care of a girl named Robin whose mother recent... Read More

Carpe Jugulum: DISCWORLD gets dark

Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett

Carpe Jugulum (1998) is book 23 in Terry Pratchett’s DISCWORLD series. Like most of his books, this one could stand alone, but it will be most appreciated by those who are familiar with the Discworld and, in this case, Pratchett’s loveable witches — Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Magrat Garlick, and Agnes Nitt. I’d advise reading Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, and Maskerade first.

Magrat, who is now queen of Lancre, has just given birth to a princess. Her husband, King Verence, a good natured man who is always reading books to learn how to be a good king, has diplomatically invited some foreigners to the celebration. Unfortunate... Read More

The Chestnut King: A satisfying conclusion

The Chestnut King by N.D. Wilson

In this final installment in N.D. Wilson’s 100 CUPBOARDS fantasy trilogy for children, Henry is living in the world behind the cupboards with his “real” family, but he is still able to get to Kansas to play baseball with his friend Zeke. Henry has a lot on his mind. He’s been having scary visions that seem prophetic and he is worried about the scar that’s growing on his face. It was caused by a drop of the evil witch’s blood and Henry suspects that it will eventually drive him mad and/or give the witch control over him. Henry’s friend Frank the Fat Faery has been disowned by the faeries because he helped Henry break the curse that bound Mordecai.

Henry is happy to be reunited with all the people he loves, and to meet his older brother James who has arrived to see him, but the fami... Read More

The Long Earth: Infinite stories across infinite worlds

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

Still going strong on my Terry Pratchett reading spree, I decided to move away from the fantasy novels that make up the majority of his literary corpus. It was Science Fiction I settled for, and a collaborative work at that: The Long Earth sees SF heavyweight Stephen Baxter join forces with Pratchett for a planned 5-part series.

The founding concept of The Long Earth is actually Pratchett’s brainchild, dreamed up somewhere between the publication of his first and second DISCWORLD novels. The premise is this: multiple worlds exist, possibly infinite versions of them. This in itself is no groundbreaking concept, but the way Pratchett and Baxter deal with the logistics of parallel universes is. It is possible to mov... Read More

Irenicon: Well-crafted setting makes for good opener to a new trilogy

Irenicon by Aidan Harte

Aidan Harte’s debut novel Irenicon is a mostly impressive beginning to his WAVE trilogy; its richly detailed world, tense plot, and subtle mix of science and magic offset some issues of pace, structure, and character sufficiently enough that I plan on continuing right on with its sequel The Warring States, which just arrived last week.

Irenicon is set in a somewhat off-kilter Renaissance Italy, where centuries earlier Herod’s slaughter of children actually worked, killing Jesus Christ as an infant and leaving Mary to become the focal point of a still pervasive but not quite as dominant religion. In this world, Concord, not Rome, rose as the foremost city of a large Empire, and the almost-Catholic Church was supplanted by natural philosophy in a kind of alternate Reformation, led by Girolamo Be... Read More

Dandelion Fire: Better than predecessor

Dandelion Fire by N.D. Wilson

Dandelion Fire is the second book in N.D. Wilson’s 100 CUPBOARDS trilogy for children. In the first book, 100 Cupboards, we met Henry, a boy who went to live with his aunt and uncle in Kansas and discovered 100 oddly-shaped doors behind the plaster in his attic bedroom. There are different worlds behind all those doors and toward the end of the book Henry finally gets into one and inadvertently sets free an evil witch queen. I thought this was a great premise, and I liked Henry, but I was disappointed that so little time was spent exploring the other worlds.

At the beginning of Dandelion Fire, Henry is about to be sent home to live with the overprotective but unloving parents who adopted him when he was a baby. He know... Read More

The Dragon in the Sea: Submarine treachery

The Dragon in the Sea by Frank Herbert

The East and the West rule the world, but the West is running out of oil. The West has been sending subtugs (specialized submarines) to smuggle oil from the East, but the last twenty missions have failed. It’s treachery! Security knows that the East has a lot of sleeper agents among their ranks, so they assign John Ramsey, who specializes in psychology and electronics, aboard the next mission in order to uncover the sleeper agent.

There are four men aboard the subtug, and since one of them is Ramsey, his search seems pretty simple. He even has fancy new technology that monitors the crew’s hormone levels. Unfortunately, things don’t go as planned. The crew discovers a dead man aboard the subtug — was he a sleeper agent or the victim of one? They also find gadgets designed to give away their location. And there’s sabotage, too. (How many sleeper agents does the East ... Read More

The Diamond Age: Nanotech, Neo-Victorians, Princess Nell’s Primer, and the Fists of Righteous Harmony – all we need now is the kitchen sink

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

I am a big Neal Stephenson fan based on his novels Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon. He is frequently a brilliant writer, unafraid to explore new ideas in the most unexpected and entertaining ways. His sense of humor is more subtle and clever than most, and his world-building abilities are top-notch. However, he has a serious problem with endings, particularly in The Diamond Age.

This also happened in Snow Crash, where an amazing opening led to a fairly fascinating middle portion and then a dissolved into a flurry of confusing action and events that brought things to a less-than-perfect close. It makes it very hard on fans, who really WANT to like everything he writes.

I listened to this on audiobook narrat... Read More

Soarer’s Choice: Satisfactorily concludes the second COREAN trilogy

Soarer’s Choice by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

The second trilogy in L. E. Modesitt, Jr.’s COREAN CHRONICLES closes with Soarer’s Choice. While this book is better than the previous novel, Cadmian’s Choice, that’s mostly because (1) It closes out this overly-long trilogy and (2) It gives the background that helps explain the world Alucius lives in in the first three COREAN CHRONICLES books, LegaciesDarknesses, and Scepters. (The story of that first trilogy occurs generations after the events in the second trilogy, Alector’s Choice, Cadmian’s Choice and Soarer’s Choice).

Mykel and Dainyl continue to be noble and upright and, consequently, continue to be promoted up their respective ... Read More

Throne of the Crescent Moon: A perfect by-the-pool book

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

While I had read some of Saladin Ahmed’s short fiction, I was pretty late to the party on his novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon. The book was nominated for a Nebula and a Hugo in 2013. Anyway, this week I finally got around to it. This is a fun fantasy adventure in a fantastical Middle Eastern setting, filled with lovely descriptions of the main city and genuinely terrifying monsters, the ghuls.

The story is pretty traditional. Adoulla is a ghul-hunter, but he is getting old and tired, and likes his creature comforts: tea-cakes and cardamom tea, his townhouse and his books. Unfortunately, the city and surrounding countryside is being attacked by ghuls that are stronger and more numerous than any before, and Adoulla is one of the few remaining ghul-hunters. With his y... Read More

Interesting Times: Rincewind goes to the “Aurient”

Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

Lord Vetinari receives a message from the Counterweight Continent — which isn’t China — demanding that Ankh-Morpork send the “Great Wizzard” at once. Vetinari, hoping to avoid a conflict, summons Mustrum Ridcully, the Archchancellor of Unseen University, to a top-secret meeting. Who do they want? Ridcully figures the Dean is the biggest wizard at the university — could they just send him? Of course, longtime DISCWORLD readers already know that “Wizzard” means Rincewind, and, of course, that he is going to the “Aurient.”

It takes some convincing, but Rincewind reluctantly agrees to the plan. Ponder programs Hex to send Rincewind to the Counterweight Continent, and, though the calculations are rough, Rincewind arrives more or less safely. Once there, he meets Cohen the Barbarian, who, at ninety-maybe-ninety-five, is aging like oak. Unhappy with the tide of po... Read More

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress: TANSTAAFL on the Moon

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein’s libertarian creed is TANSTAAFL ("There ain't no such thing as a free lunch"), and this book is probably the most complete expression of his political ideas about self-government, attempts to empower women while still being incredibly sexist and condescending, and some pretty good hard SF extrapolation of what a moon colony’s technology, politics and economy might be like. Oh yeah, and there happens to be an omniscient, all-powerful AI named Mike who helps the Loonies stage their revolution against the oppressive Lunar Authority (can you say DEUS EX MACHINA?). The outcome is never really in doubt, so what we are given instead is a 300-page lecture on what Heinlein’s ideal society would be.

Basically Heinlein thinks that most politicians are self-serving and cor... Read More

A Mirror for Observers: Aliens struggle over the soul of one young man

A Mirror for Observers by Edgar Pangborn

It's somewhat surprising that this 1954 International Fantasy Award winner has never found a very large audience in the SF genre. The writing style is reminiscent of Theodore Sturgeon or Ray Bradbury, very much focused on the characters and their inner thoughts and struggles, a big contrast with the more pulpy science and space-adventure tales featured in pulp magazines like Galaxy and Astounding.

I knew about A Mirror for Observers only because it was included in David Pringle's Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels. Although it is ostensibly the story of two undercover Martian Observers who battle over the heart and soul of a promising young boy, it basically breaks down to 65% characte... Read More

The Pilgrims of Rayne: The stakes are high

The Pilgrims of Rayne by D.J. MacHale

The Pilgrims of Rayne is the eighth book in D.J. MacHale’s PENDRAGON series for young adults. I’ll assume that if you’re reading a review for book eight, you realize that I’ll probably be spoiling some of the plots of the previous books here.

Bobby has now Traveled to Saint Dane’s next stop: a tropical island paradise called Ibara. At first Ibara seems like an ideal place to live, but soon, as you expected, Bobby realizes that Ibara is at a tipping point. Everyone is happy on Ibara, but they’re not allowed to leave. What lies beyond the island paradise? A few curious and disgruntled citizens would like to know, and one of those is the son of Ibara’s Traveler, a guy who was killed in the Quillan Games we read about in the previous book. When Bobby Pendragon teams up with these outlaws, they make a surprising discovery that is devastating ... Read More

Vermilion: A fascinating character in a fascinating alternate world

Vermilion by Molly Tanzer

I am a sucker for interstitial characters: those literary beings who work the borderlands and thresholds, guiding other characters and the reader from one state of being to another. In Vermilion, her first novel, Molly Tanzer introduces us to Lou Merriwether. Lou is half Chinese and half English; she is a female who dresses as a male and she is a psychopomp, a magical artisan whose skill is to guide spirits of the dead across the threshold into the afterlife — even if they don’t want to go. You want your interstices? Lou can help you with that.

Lou lives and works in 1870s San Francisco, in a world different from ours. With a Chinese mother and an English father, now dead, Lou doesn’t fit comfortably in either culture. She is making a living as a psychopomp when her mother volunteers her to explore a Chinatown mystery. Several young Chinese men have followe... Read More

Norstrilia: The only novel set in the “Instrumentality of Mankind” universe

Norstrilia by Cordwainer Smith

I’ve always wanted to read the work of Cordwainer Smith (pen name of Paul Linebarger, a scholar and diplomat who was an expert on East Asia and psychological warfare), who also moonlighted as a quirky SF author who wrote a number of short stories mainly in the 1950s and 60s set in the Instrumentality of Mankind, a full-fledged galaxy-spanning far-future universe.

Smith has something of a cult following, but really only has a few books to his credit: the collected short stories that can be found in The Instrumentality of Mankind (1974), The Best of Cordwainer Smith (1975), and The Rediscovery of Man (1993). He wrote only one novel, Norstrilia (1975), which was initially split into two novellas titled The Planet Buyer (1964) and The Underpeople... Read More