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Fables: Animal Farm by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham

Fables (Vol. 2): Animal Farm by Bill Willingham (author) and Mark Buckingham (artist)

Willingham further develops his world.

Animal Farm is the second volume in Fables, a comic book series that presents characters from various “make-believe” lands living the immigrant life in the USA. In Volume One, we met Snow White, the capable vice-mayor of Fabletown, and her rebellious sister Rose Red. In Animal Farm, Willingham pulls back the curtain to show us a few of the problems lurking just out of sight.

Humanoid fables can l... Read More

The Martians: A MARS story collection by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Martians by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson’s MARS trilogy is a landmark of science fiction. The books visualize the terraforming of the red planet from a desert wasteland to a verdant living space while Robinson examines humanity from economic, psychological, political, sociological, and ecological viewpoints, culminating in the most in-depth look at colonizing Mars as has yet been written. The quantity of material was so great in fact, that Robinson published the story collection The Martians three years after Blue Mars. Collecting material spilling over in the creative effort, it features short stories published from magazines, cuts from the novels, Robinson’s notes, musings, and others — 26 pieces in all. The time and setting of the selections is scattered throughout the three novels. Some stories fill gaps not explicitly described, some are alternate ... Read More

Earth’s Last Citadel: Had me fairly riveted

Earth’s Last Citadel by C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner

Catherine Moore and Henry Kuttner, generally acknowledged to be the preeminent husband-and-wife writing team in sci-fi history, initially had their novella Earth's Last Citadel released in the pages of Argosy magazine in 1943 (indeed, it was the very last piece of science fiction to be serialized in that publication). It was finally published in book form 21 years later. This is a pretty way-out piece of sci-fi/fantasy that reveals its debt to a handful of writers who had been major influences on the pair, particularly the florid early works of Abraham Merritt.

In it, four participants in the conf... Read More

Illusive: This brisk YA thriller follows all the rules

Illusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones

Emily Lloyd-Jone’s debut novel, Illusive, is a briskly-paced futuristic adventure for middle school readers. Jones created an interesting adventure, but stayed safely within the conventions and tropes of YA, drawing heavily from familiar works, resulting in a book that is fun, but predictable and in places a bit derivative.

Ciere (pronounced See-ARE) is a seventeen-year-old thief, part of a high-end theft ring. Ciere and her compatriots have special, almost magical abilities, awakened as a result of a vaccine they were given to combat a pandemic that broke out in 2017. In a small number of the population, the vaccine created super-abilities: eidetic memory, extreme strength, an “ability” to escape, the ability to create illusions (Ciere’s gift), telepathy, and rarest of all, mind control. People with these gifts are called “immunes” and are hunted by the governmen... Read More

Crystal Express: Stories by Sterling

Crystal Express by Bruce Sterling

Crystal Express is a 1989 collection of short stories by Bruce Sterling, originally published between 1982 and 1987. Five of the stories are set in his Shaper/Mechanist universe made popular in Schismatrix, three are general science fiction, and four lean toward the fantasy genre. The stories are grouped along these thematic lines, and the following is a brief summary of each story.

Shaper/Mechanist:

“Swarm” (1982) — Certainly one of Sterling’s initial forays into the Shaper/Mechanist universe if not the first, “Swarm” is poorly written (it has almost a cartoon presentation), but does a solid (if overt) job of delineating the differences between Shapers and Mechanists. It tells the tale of two people trapped inside an asteroid filled with Investor youth and their plans for genetic modification.
“Spider Rose... Read More

The Ultra Thin Man: Shows real promise

The Ultra Thin Man by Patrick Swenson

I have to admit that sometimes I hate reviewing first-time novels. Not those first-time novels where you can't believe this was a first foray into novel writing and not the product of an experienced author using a pen name. And not those first-time novels where you can't believe no one — an editor, a reading group, a spouse — suggested that perhaps the book wasn't quite ready for prime time (or late, late night even). And certainly not those first novels that are so painfully, obviously trying to cash in on an ongoing publishing trend. No, I hate reviewing those first-time novels where the author is utterly sincere and earnest, has a good idea, has created some interesting characters, and shows some real promise for the future, but just isn't quite there yet. When every criticism feels like an undeserved punch in the gut to some nice-seeming stranger you just passed on the street. So apologies ahead of t... Read More

Strange Country: A memorable rural fantasy

Strange Country by Deborah Coates

In the TAYLOR COUNTY series, Deborah Coates has blended a wide-open prairie landscape, eerie magic, and great characters to create a memorable rural fantasy. She has said that Strange Country is the final book in the series.

Hallie Michaels has moved into the Pabahar place and finds herself staying inside its protections more often than she cares to admit. She knows one day there will be another reckoning with Death, and she’s in no rush to have that conversation. But cryptic messages start showing up, telling her the time to face her fear is approaching.

Meanwhile, Deputy Boyd Davies — Hallie’s maybe-boyfriend — responds to a call about a prowler only to have the woman shot dead by a sniper right in front of him. When the police comb her house, they find an older body and some unusual stones. A mystery unfolds involving several loc... Read More

The Buried Life: Nice

The Buried Life by Carrie Patel

Carrie Patel’s The Buried Life is one of those amiable novels that you keep reading because, well, you picked it up, and if this bit here feels a bit clunky, and that bit there even more so, and sure, that’s a little implausible, and yes, wouldn’t it be nice if the prose were livelier, the world richer, but it’s, you know, nice enough, and maybe it’ll get better than nice — sharper, or edgier, or “grabbier” — but no, it stays nice all the way through. And there of course isn’t anything wrong with nice. Nice is good. Nice is nice. But it’s hard to get excited about nice.

The setting is post-unknown-cataclysm, a long time post, when most folks reside in large underground cities. The surface world is still there, and looking pretty good actually (this is no Wool Read More

Dinner at Deviant’s Palace: Orpheus and Eurydice with a post-apocalyptic spin

Dinner at Deviant's Palace by Tim Powers

Tim Powers is an author who seems to forever fly under the radar of popular readership. And there doesn’t seem to be an obvious reason. His stories are well crafted, his prose lean and brisk, and his sense of the fantastic always vivid and invigorating. His fifth novel, Dinner at Deviant’s Palace, has all of these qualities on display. Recently brought back to life by Open Road Media after two decades out of print, the novel has everything a genre fan could love.

With echoes of Stephen King’s The Stand, Dinner at Deviant’s Palace is a post-apocalyptic novel in an American setting. The story occurs in the crumbling remains of L.A. long after a nuclear catastrophe, humanity having reverted to pre-industrial times. Cults roam the land, ... Read More

A Plunder of Souls: Plot issues are overcome by good characters

A Plunder of Souls by D.B. Jackson

Just last week while on vacation out west, my son and I were discussing what were the greater obstacles to our enjoyment of books and what elements allowed for those obstacles to be overcome. One of my observations was that while a strong plot will rarely overcome poor characters for me, if you give me good characters, I can overlook more than a few plot flaws. Who knew how prophetic that conversation would be? For upon my return home, I found waiting for me a copy of D.B. Jackson’s A Plunder of Souls, the third in his historical fantasy series set in pre-Revolutionary Boston. At the series’ center lies beleaguered thieftaker/conjurer Ethan Kaille, and it was Kaille’s still-engaging voice that managed to ease me past, if not blind me to, the several plot issues in the novel.

The year is 1769 and tensions are high: British soldiers have been stationed in the city an... Read More

Vampirella: Southern Gothic by Nate Cosby

Vampirella: Southern Gothic by Nate Cosby

Vampirella is in the Witchblade tradition of pin-up lead female comic book characters. If you aren't likely to enjoy comics with this type of art, there's not even a slight chance that you'll enjoy this comic book. However, if you are already a fan of Vampirella, you probably already follow her books, and nothing I say here will make you like them any less, though I hope to help you decide whether this new book is worth seeking out. Therefore, I'm speaking primarily to an audience somewhere in the middle, an audience of readers open to the possibility that while they may be offended by certain visual aspects of a comic book, they might still appreciate other aspects of Vampirella. For that audience, I suggest that, though no... Read More

Terra Formars by Yu Sasuga

Terra Formars by Yu Sasuga 

Terra Formars is a science fiction manga that takes place on Mars, and if you aren't totally creeped out by roaches, then you might be able to deal with this very violent, but action-packed, story. The astronauts sent on this mission are not picked for their intelligence or exceptional skills; rather, this group is made up of those considered disposable. Some are poor, some are criminals, but all are not valued by those in power and running the mission. These Terra Formars are treated as science experiments to send off to Mars to deal with the roach problem.

In making Mars habitable for human beings, the scientists have introduced moss and other plant and bug life into the Mars ecosystem.... Read More

Horrible Monday: Deceiver by Kelli Owen

Deceiver by Kelli Owen

DarkFuse, an independent publisher of horror, suspense and thrillers, has a thriving novella series. For $85 per month, you can subscribe to the limited hardcover editions of the novellas, which are published at the rate of two each month. (The subscription also includes a hardcover novel every month.) Only 100 copies are printed, though the works are also available in electronic form. It’s a delight to see a publisher take an interest in publishing this shorter form, which is often exactly the right length for genre works (and for mainstream fiction, for that matter; consider William Faulkner and Henry James), but which is neglected by most publishers.

One of the June 2014 novella offerings is Kelli Owen’s Deceiver, a suspenseful work of dark fiction that opens at a post-funeral gathering. Matt’s wife Tania has been murdered while on a business trip, strangled with a necktie. The police have ... Read More

People of the Morning Star: Historical novel blends myth and intrigue

People of the Morning Star by W. Michael Gear & Kathleen O'Neal Gear

People of the Morning Star, by the archaeologist couple Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear, is pretty interesting once it gets going. It is set in the Native American (Mississippian) settlement of Cahokia, a city located near modern-day St. Louis, whose population in the 1200s would have made it one of the largest cities in the world. In this book, Cahokia is ruled by the Four Winds clan, led by the Morning Star, a god incarnated into the human flesh of Chunkey Boy, a Four Winds clan youth. The social structure of Cahokia is highly stratified; the most favored clans rule the others, with merchants and traders having less status, and "dirt farmers" having the relative status of peasants or serfs.

A threat in the form of a mysterious character named "Bead" enters Cahokia, bent on killing all of the Four Winds nobles, especially Morning Star, in order t... Read More

Passage to Dawn: An Uptick for the Series

Passage to Dawn by R.A. Salvatore

Passage to Dawn, fourth and final book in author R.A. Salvatore’s LEGACY OF THE DROW quartet (and the tenth in his broader LEGEND OF DRIZZT series), is pretty good, by Drizzt standards. Hurrah! Cue the Triumph through Rome! Bring on the cheering throngs and falling rose petals! All right, so it may sound like I’m damning with faint praise here, but given the overall shakiness of the quartet it seems expected to tie together, Passage to Dawn’s being pretty good actually does seem like something worthy of a bit of celebration. That doesn’... Read More

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