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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

Slaves of Sleep: Not an E-Meter in sight

Slaves of Sleep by L. Ron Hubbard

Potential readers of L. Ron Hubbard's Slaves of Sleep who might be put off by the author's association with the cult of Dianetics and Scientology need not be concerned here. This novel first appeared in Unknown magazine in 1939, more than a decade before Hubbard's first Dianetics article was published (in Astounding Science Fiction) in May 1950. Thus, in Slaves of Sleep, there's not a mention of “auditors,” “clears” or “E-meters” to be found. Rather, this is an extremely fast-moving and colorful fantasy tale, told with much brio and panache. In it, we meet Seattle shipping magnate Jan Palmer, a rather pusillanimous young man who is falsely accused of the murder of a visiting professor. I'm not giving anything away by saying that this murder was actually the work of the hairy, fanged and 15-foot-tall jinni Zongri, w... Read More

The Day of the Triffids: The Walking Vegetables

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

Bill Masen wakes in a hospital with bandages over his eyes. Finally, he will be able to expose his eyes to light — if only a nurse or doctor would come to remove the bandages. Well, no one is left to help Bill because a gnarly comet has blinded every person that watched its lightshow. Bill removes his bandages, leaves the hospital, and learns that English civilization — perhaps human civilization — has collapsed due to mass blindness.

Without its ability to see, humanity loses its place atop the food pyramid. A new creature now dominates: the triffid. A triffid is a tall plant. It eats insects. It can use its stalk as a whip, which is deadly because it contains poison. Though a triffid can’t just eat a person, python style, its prehensile stalk can tear and consume the flesh from a rotting corpse. Worse, the triffids can walk. And they can talk to each other! Each triffid h... Read More

The Reality Bug: Metaphysics for kids

The Reality Bug by D.J. MacHale

The Reality Bug is the fourth novel in D.J. MacHale’s 10-book PENDRAGON series for teens. In each novel, young Bobby Pendragon, a Traveler, visits a different “territory” (world) where he tries to prevent Saint Dane, the evil villain, from causing enough chaos to completely destroy the multiverse.

This time Bobby is summoned to the territory of Veelox, which seems peaceful at first. Then he learns that Veelox is quiet because 90% of its population is plugged into a computer simulation that allows them to control and play out all their fantasies. (Don’t worry. This is a book for kids, so these fantasies are all totally, if unrealistically, G-rated.) While people are in the virtual reality, their bodies are monitored and fed as needed. With most of the population of the planet being entertained 24 hours per day (or however long Veelox days are, I actu... Read More

Vicious: Beautifully exploits the concept of the ambiguous superhero

Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Note: Find "Warm Up," a short-story introduction to Vicious, for free at Tor.com. You can also purchase it for 99c on Kindle.

There was once a time when being the superhero meant being the good guy. Then The Watchmen and shows like Heroes blurred those lines and shed a whole load of doubt on what it meant to be a superhero. Gone were the days of Stan Lee’s warning that “With great power comes great responsibility.” V.E. Schwab’s Viciou... Read More

Prudence: A new generation of zany adventures

Prudence by Gail Carriger

Prudence is the first book in Gail Carriger’s new CUSTARD PROTOCOL series. It’s a spin-off of THE PARASOL PROTECTORATE, her five-book series which is about genteel vampires and werewolves in Victorian London. You don’t need to read PARASOL PROTECTORATE before starting Prudence, but you’ll understand the characters and world a little better if you do.

Those who are familiar with PARASOL PROTECTORATE will know who Prudence is. She’s the daughter of Lady Alexia Tarabotti, a preternatural who is able to cancel out other people’s supernatural powers. She has two fathers — alpha werewolf Lord Conal Maccon (her biological father) and the flamboyant vampire Lord Akeldama (who adopted her to protect her from the vampires). Prudence has the extremely rare power of being able to not only cancel other people... Read More

The Well’s End: Solid action with familiar YA tropes

The Well’s End by Seth Fishman

Thanks to a good sense of pace and a driving sense of urgency, Seth Fishman manages in The Well’s End to, for the most part,  overcome some overly-familiar YA tropes and weak characterization. The positives in the end outweigh the negatives, making for a solidly exciting story, if not a particularly deep or moving one.

Mia Kish is a sixteen-year-old top class swimmer at one of the country’s more prestigious prep schools, though her real claim to fame was as “Baby Mia,” a reference to when as a small child she fell down a well, prompting a multi-day, well-covered rescue effort. Her fifteen minutes of fame that continues, superior swimming skills (beating both the girls and then the boys), and the fact that she is a townie all work against her such that she is disliked by mos... Read More

2010: Odyssey Two: A good novel, but a frustrating sequel

2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke

Please note that this review will include spoilers of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In 2001: A Space Odyssey, we learn that mysterious forces have guided humanity’s evolution. We don’t meet these forces, but we do see their monoliths. The first monolith appears before a group of struggling chimpanzees. When they touch the monolith, they are inspired to use tools. The novel shifts to the twenty-first century, when another monolith is found on the moon. A third and final monolith is found near Jupiter (Saturn in Arthur C. Clarke’s first novel, but the location is ret-conned here). Humanity sends several people — two conscious humans, three humans in suspended animation, and one computer known as HAL — aboard Discovery to inspect the fina... Read More

The Lost City of Faar: An underwater adventure for Bobby Pendragon

The Lost City of Faar by D.J. MacHale

Note: The first paragraph of this review contains minor spoilers for The Merchant of Death.

The Lost City of Faar is the second novel in D.J. MacHale’s popular 10-book PENDRAGON series for teens. In the first book, The Merchant of Death, 14-year old Bobby Pendragon discovered that he is a Traveler — a person who represents a planet and is able to travel through space and time to visit other worlds. The Travelers are trying to stop an evil shapeshifter named Saint Dane from creating chaos in Halla, which consists of everything that exists in all times and places. In that first book, Bobby saved a world called Denduron. When he arrived back on Earth, he found that his family had ceased to exist. His Uncle Press, who is also a ... Read More

Timeless: A little goes a long way

Timeless by Gail Carriger

Timeless is the fifth and final book in Gail Carriger’s popular PARASOL PROTECTORATE series which takes place in a Victorian London where vampires and werewolves and other immortal paranormal creatures are integrated into society. Alexia Tarabotti, our spunky heroine, is a “preternatural” — she has the rare ability to cancel out the powers of other supernatural creatures when she touches them.

Over the course of the previous books, Alexia met, fell in love with, and married Lord Conal Maccon, an alpha werewolf. Their relationship is sometimes sexy and sometimes rocky. For example, he banished Alexia during her pregnancy because he thought he was sterile. Now the couple is back together and baby Prudence has entered their lives. Prudence is an enigma — she has some unique powers that nobody understands yet. Will she be some sort of abomination? Quite pos... Read More

Superposition: A quantum-physics courtroom thriller

Superposition by David Walton

David Walton’s new book Superposition is billed by the publisher as a “quantum physics murder mystery.” Clearly, Walton loves quantum physics and can explain its concepts in an understandable way. Choosing alternating first-person narrators was a stroke of brilliance, upping the suspense, at least in the beginning as the story unfolds.

Jacob Kelly is a physicist who resigned from the New Jersey Super-Collider (Yes! New Jersey has the biggest super-collider in the world in this book!). Now he teaches at Swarthmore College. A former colleague of his, Brian Vanderhall, comes to Kelly’s house, claiming he has made an extraordinary breakthrough, which he has. Things don’t go well in the meeting. A day later Vanderhall is dead, and Jacob is the obvious suspect. Jacob must work to get acquitted, and also contain the result of Brian’s experiment. Jacob... Read More

The Adventure of the Ring of Stones: A Langdon St. Ives novella

The Adventure of the Ring of Stones by James P. Blaylock

The Adventure of the Ring of Stones is one of several novellas written by James P. Blaylock that Subterranean Press has published. Each of these is a stand-alone steampunk adventure featuring Langdon St. Ives, the gentleman scientist/adventurer who stars in Blaylock’s LANDGDON ST. IVES novels. It would be helpful, but not at all necessary, to have read the novels Homunculus, Lord Kelvin’s Machine, and The Aylesford Skull before reading this novella. Not so much for the history of the character, but really more so you’ll be in tune with Blaylock’s very particular sense of humor. It may not seem like it at first, but these books are comedies and I’m not sure how well that comes across in Blaylock’s shorter works if you’re not already familiar with his style. Read More

Discount Armageddon: Displays fancy footwork

Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

I’m not an expert on paranormal romance versus urban fantasy, especially when the book seems to land right on the border of those two sub-genres. Based on the sexiness of the female hero,  the hotness quotient of the boyfriend/adversary, the quality of the sex (steamy!) and the speed at which, after that first passionate connection, they are arguing again (mere minutes!) I’m categorizing Discount Armageddon as paranormal romance (PR). I’m also categorizing it as fun.

Seanan McGuire is one of the busiest writers in the field; she writes urban fantasy (the OCTOBER DAYE series), SF-horror under the name of Mira Grant, and paranormal romance, as well as novellas and shorter fiction. Read More