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The Transmigration of Timothy Archer: Explores madness, suicide, faith, the occult

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer by Philip K. Dick

Philip K Dick’s Radio Free Albemuth (1985) and VALIS (1981) were strange but moving attempts to make sense of his bizarre religious experiences in 1974 when a hyper-rational alien mind contacted him via a pink laser from space. He then wrote The Divine Invasion (1981) and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982), both loosely connected titles in the VALIS TRILOGY, although the latter was posthumously substituted for the unfinished The Owl in Daylight. Sadly, these were the final novels that PDK wrote before his death in 1982. The Divine Invasion is a complex retelling of the second coming of Christ to an Earth dominated by the fallen angel Bel... Read More

Babel-17: A dazzling new-wave SF space opera from the 1960s

Reposting to include Kat's review of the new audio version.

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany

Babel-17 won the 1966 Nebula award for best novel, tying with Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon. Samuel Delany’s space opera novel is dated in many ways, but still holds up.

In the future, humans have colonized many star systems. Currently, the Alliance is engaged in a war with the Invaders, who, despite the name, are also human. The Alliance has intercepted many dispatches in a code they can’t break. They’ve labeled it Babel-17. Desperate, they turn to the inter-galactically renowned poet Rydra Wong to help them decipher it.

Wong is in her late twenties, a linguistic, semantic and telepathic genius, a starship captain, and so compelling that the general who meets with her falls in love with her almost instantly. There is more than a bit of fan... Read More

Keeper of the Castle: Mel reconstructs an ancient Scottish Monastery

Keeper of the Castle by Juliet Blackwell

In Keeper of the Castle, the fifth book in Juliet Blackwell’s HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION series, a famous inspirational speaker has hired Mel Turner to oversee the reconstruction of a medieval Scottish monastery on his property outside San Francisco.

There are a couple of problems with this. One is that there are protestors outside the gates. One vocal protestor, a guy who wears a kilt, objects to the “theft” of a Scottish national landmark. Another problem is that the monastery seems haunted by two ghosts. One is a sad hungry woman who wears a red dress. The other is a sword-wielding Highlander who attacks any man who comes close. These ghosts are spooking Mel’s construction workers. The last problem is that there’s been an accident at the constr... Read More

The Shards of Heaven: Successful debut of Roman-Era historical fantasy mash-up

The Shards of Heaven by Michael Livingston

The Shards of Heaven is not author Michael Livingston’s first work. In fact, he’s already a prolific award-winning writer, though mostly focused in his world of academia. Livingston is a Professor of Medieval Literature at The Citadel in South Carolina. The Shards of Heaven is his first novel and he taps into his significant historical knowledge. He liberally expands his knowledge base with strong fantasy elements, though, not unlike George R.R. Martin’s A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, it’s heavy on history-laden fiction and lighter on the fantasy… at least in this first offering of what’s expected to be a trilogy.

Impending war bubbles across the Roman Empire as Livingston’s story starts. Julius Caesar has been assass... Read More

Immortal Beloved: A light but promising new start to a supernatural trilogy

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan

Nastasya is a burned-out immortal who has spent hundreds of years trying to avoid any sort of real emotion. With her equally jaded friends, she spends all her time in endless, meaningless carousing. She’s not very likable at first, but that’s the whole point. When her friend Incy’s casual cruelty gives Nastasya a wake-up call about what her life has become, she doesn’t like herself much either.

Horrified with herself, afraid of Incy, Nastasya does the only thing she can think of. She turns to River, a woman who offered her help many decades ago. River runs River’s Edge, a halfway house for immortals that serves as part rehab, part magic school. Troubled immortals go there to relearn an appreciation for life and to study positive spellcraft. Nastasya doesn’t quite fit in at first but eventually comes to enjoy her stay at ... Read More

Home for the Haunting: Delivers what fans expect

Home for the Haunting by Juliet Blackwell

Home for the Haunting is the fourth book in Juliet Blackwell’s HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION series. Each of these book is a short cozy paranormal mystery. Each story is self-contained, so the books can stand alone, but there’s an overarching plot involving Mel Turner’s personal relationships and each installment adds new characters, so most readers would probably prefer to start at the beginning and read the novels in order. The first three are If Walls Could Talk, Dead Bolt, and Murder on the House. After the fourth book, Home of the Haunting, comes Keeper of the Castle and the sixth book, Give Up the Ghost, will appear on shelves... Read More

The Aeronaut’s Windlass: Begins a new series by Jim Butcher

The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

(Reposting to include Tadiana's review.)

Fans of Jim Butcher (including myself) were thrilled to see that he’s started a new series called THE CINDER SPIRES. This one is quite different than his previous works. THE DRESDEN FILES, for which Butcher is best known, is a modern-day urban fantasy with a first-person narrator and a hardboiled feel. THE CODEX ALERA is an epic fantasy with a typical medieval setting and plot.

THE CINDER SPIRES is set in a more imaginative world. With its airships and steam power, it has a steampunk feel. The story takes place on a mist-covered planet (possibly a future Earth?) whose surface is so dangerous that humans have built their habitats in tall spires miles above the planet’... Read More

Broken Homes: An unbelievable ending. As in, seriously, that’s not believable.

Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant, mediocre policeman and inferior wizard, is back. Broken Homes is the fourth instalment of Ben Aaronvitch’s PETER GRANT series, and the detective returns with his love of acronyms and Red Stripe. Once more under the supervision of DCI Thomas Nightingale, Peter, Lesley and (the newly initiated) thirteen-year-old Abigail, must police the supernatural elements of London’s crime scene.

The story opens with a series of seemingly unconnected crimes: a car accident, a body half-buried in some scrubland, a suicide and the theft of a magic book from a home of a famous architect. And the missing link? The Faceless Man, of course, the other recurring character and super-baddy of the series.

London’s ugliest estate, Sky Garde... Read More

Murder on the House: Mel takes on a haunted B&B

Murder on the House by Juliet Blackwell

In Murder on the House, the third book in Juliet Blackwell’s HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION MYSTERIES, Melanie “Mel” Turner is starting to acquire a reputation as a successful general contractor and ghostbuster. Homeowners around San Francisco are asking for her special services and she’s got some new projects going on while she’s still finishing up some of the historic renovations we got to see in the first two books, If Walls Could Talk and Dead Bolt. This time she’s got a unique case. The homeowners whose historic house she hopes to renovate want the ghosts of the children that haunt the upstairs nursery to stay. They plan to convert the house into a haunted bed & breakfast and think the ghosts will attract customers looking for a unique San Francisco experience.

But Mel doesn... Read More

Dead Bolt: Inspired by a San Francisco legend

Dead Bolt by Juliet Blackwell

Dead Bolt is the second book in Juliet Blackwell’s HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION MYSTERIES. I liked the first book, If Walls Could Talk, well enough, but felt like it was too similar to Blackwell’s other paranormal cozy mystery series, WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES. The best thing about both series is that the audiobook versions are read by the amazing Xe Sands and, I swear, I would probably be happy listening to Xe read the tax code. (Fortunately, Blackwell’s books are a lot more entertaining than that!) These books are short — each is just over 7 hours long in audio format.

In Dead Bolt, Mel Turner has been asked to renovate the historic San Francisco home of a young couple with a baby. The house, whic... Read More

Ghosts and Girls of Fiction House! Ed. Michael Price

Ghosts and Girls of Fiction House! Ed. Michael Price

In the early history of comic books, Fiction House was well known for its “headlight comics,” so named for the focus on buxom half-dressed females. Though the publisher spanned various genres, including jungle stories, aviator adventure tales, and space opera, as the title implies, Ghosts and Girls of Fiction House!, edited by Michael Price, focuses on their supernatural stories, in particular a long-running series entitled “The Ghost Gallery by Drew Murdoch” (Murdoch is the private eye narrator, not the actual author), which ran for 126 issues before evolving into Ghost Comics in the 50s.

This vo... Read More

Rising Tide: This has second-book problems, but is still an engaging read

Rising Tide by Rajan Khanna

Rising Tide is Rajan Khanna’s sequel to his post-apocalyptic novel Falling Skies. Rising Tide follows Ben Gold, airship pilot and one-time scavenger, after the Sick, an engineered virus, has turned humans into living zombies called the Feral. Society and government has collapsed, and people like Ben exist mostly by being loners, but Ben made a connection with an island colony and that changed everything for him.

Rising Tide opens with Ben and his scientist partner Miranda being held captive by Malik on his repurposed battleship. Malik holds a grudge against Ben from a previous heist, but pretty soon the ship is in trouble, and Ben is the only... Read More

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster: A magical door to the past

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks

In May 1895, Elsbeth Grundy, a crotchety widow living in a cabin on the Kansas plains, sees a purple and gold-painted Victorian home that has unexpectedly appeared in her wheat fields. Elsbeth determinedly stalks over to the home to demand an explanation of this irksome addition to her back forty, but every time she goes to knock on the door, she’s immediately displaced back to the gate around the home. Incensed, she leaves a letter in the mailbox, threatening to use her shotgun to deal with this unwanted trespass.

In May 1995, Annabelle Aster, a young woman in her late twenties who loves Jane Austen and dresses in Victorian-style clothing, takes a break from cleaning her beloved San Francisco Victorian home. She steps into her back yard and is completely bewildered by the sight of a cabin and a large field of wheat, neither of which, as far as she is aware, have any business ... Read More

If Walls Could Talk: Begins another paranormal cozy mystery series by Blackwell

If Walls Could Talk by Juliet Blackwell

I’ve been enjoying the audio versions, read by Xe Sands, of Juliet Blackwell’s WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES series, so I thought I’d give the audio versions (also read by Xe Sands) of Blackwell’s HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION MYSTERIES a try. These are also paranormal cozy mysteries which take place in San Francisco and which feature a slightly socially awkward independent woman running her own business.

In If Walls Could Talk, the first HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION book, we meet Melanie (“Mel”) Turner, a divorced ABD (All But Dissertation) anthropologist who took over her family’s construction business after her mother died and her father became depressed. Turner Construction’s area of expertise is renovating old houses in ... Read More

The Geomancer: Fans of the VAMPIRE EMPIRE series will enjoy this

The Geomancer by Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith

The Geomancer is the first book in a new series by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith. This series is called GARETH AND ADELE, and The Geomancer follows Empress Adele and Garth, her lover, the turncoat vampire prince who uses an alias to fight his people.

In the alternate world these stories inhabit, it is the late 2020s. Two hundred years earlier, vampires, which are a separate species, banded together in clans and over-ran human settlements, particularly in cooler climates. While they do not use weapons, these vampires can go airborne by changing their density and they are inhumanly strong and fast, with claws and fangs. They do not like heat, so were unable to conquer equatorial areas. Adele is the... Read More

The Best Short Stories of J.G. Ballard: A broad spectrum of Ballard’s capabilities

The Best Short Stories of J.G. Ballard by J.G. Ballard

The Best Short Stories of J.G. Ballard (1979) was published in 1977 in the UK and 1978 in the US. It contains a few stories from J.G. Ballard’s earlier, more conventional SF phase in the late 1950s, his most productive and lyrical phase in the early and mid 1960s, and a small sampling of his experimental ‘condensed novel’ phase of the late 1960s/early 1970s. The stories are taken from these collections: The Voices of Time (1962), Billennium (1962), Passport to Eternity (1963), The Terminal Beach (1964), The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), and Vermilion Sands (1971).

The stories themselves are: “Concentrati... Read More

The Man Who Japed: PKD shines in his third novel

We're re-running this post to include Sandy's recent review.

The Man Who Japed by Philip K. Dick

Cult sci-fi author Philip K. Dick's third novel, The Man Who Japed, was originally published in one of those cute little "Ace doubles" (D-193, for all you collectors out there), back to back with E.C. Tubb's The Space-Born, in 1956, and with a cover price of a whopping 35 cents. (Ed Emshwiller's cover for The Man Who Japed was his first of many for these beloved double-deckers.) As in Dick's previous novel, The World Jones Made (1955), the story takes place on an Earth following a nuclear Armageddon that has considerably changed mankind's lot. In The Man Who Japed, by the year 2114, a... Read More

The Monstrumologist: Genuine Gothic gross-out horror for young adults

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

Yes, my dear child, monsters are real. I happen to have one hanging in my basement.

Rick Yancey’s story revolves around Dr. Wathrop who investigates and studies monsters — he’s the Monstrumologist. The setting is late 19th century New England, and the Monstrumologist has taken in Will Henry, the orphan of his former assistant. It’s through this young apprentice’s eyes that Yancey tells his tale of mythological monsters run amuck in pre-industrial Massachusetts. The Monstrumologist is a creepy, gothic, young-adult horror novel, and it’s a fun read.

The doctor is quirky and obsessed – he’d probably be diagnosed with Asperger’s’ Syndrome by modern therapists. He knows his monsters, but he’s not so good with people, and Yancey does a terrif... Read More

Wool: Not just your average dystopia

Wool by Hugh Howey

Whoever thinks George R.R. Martin is notorious for killing people off needs to take some tips from Hugh Howey. Two words: Main. Characters. You'd think this would be a slightly jarring way to introduce your novel, but it's testament to Howey's storytelling skills that this remains a compulsive tale.

Wool is another addition to the hugely over-saturated dystopia genre (not helped by the comparison to The Hunger Games on the cover of my edition). The premise of the book is not massively original. You’ve got your classic post-apocalyptic scenario: planet Earth had been left desolate and the remains of humanity live in an underground silo. Life in the silo is restricted by a series of regulations that its inhabitants can’t break without being sent for ‘c... Read More

The Pnume: Will Adam escape the Planet of Adventure?

The Pnume by Jack Vance

The Pnume is the final book in Jack Vance’s PLANET OF ADVENTURE quartet. These four short novels, which were published between 1968 and 1970, combine to tell the story of Adam Reith’s adventures on the planet Tschai after his spaceship crash-landed there. Adam has been trying to gather resources so that he can build a new spaceship and leave Tschai. Besides just wanting to return home, he also wants to warn Earth that there are other sentient creatures out there who may threaten Earth.

There are four main races of inhabitants on Tschai, each with their own customs and quirks. In each of the four PLANET OF ADVENTURE books — City of the Chasch, Servants of the Wankh, The Dirdir, ... Read More

It!: Try It, you might like It!

It! directed by Herbert J. Leder

I have a feeling that I wasn't the only baby-boomer boy to fall in love with the late British actress Jill Haworth after seeing her, over 50 years ago, in her very first film, 1960's Exodus. Then only 15 years old, Jill – via her sweet portrayal of Karen, a tragically fated Jewish immigrant to the new Israeli state – was certainly an actress to move hearts and garner attention. Over the next few years, that attention was mainly centered on her budding romance with Exodus costar Sal Mineo, and as the decade wore on and the '70s began, Jill gradually became enamored by those devotees of less mainstream, more "psychotronic" fare. Today, Jill is admired by those horror fans for her appearances in five films: the 10/14/63 episode of television's The Outer Limits, the one entitled "The Sixth Finger" (an especially fine episode, by the way) and four middling, British theatrical films, It! (1967), ... Read More

The Tournament at Gorlan: A RANGER’S APPRENTICE prequel

The Tournament at Gorlan by John Flanagan

Well, I thought the RANGER’S APPRENTICE series, which I recently reviewed, was finished, but it’s not. The Tournament at Gorlan begins a prequel series which tells us what happened before we met Will on the day he became a Ranger’s apprentice. We already know some of the backstory — about how Morgarath became a traitor to the King of Araluen, destroyed the reputation of the Rangers, and tried to seize the throne. John Flanagan’s prequel series will fill in the details of those events and let us enjoy the youthful days of some of our favorite older RANGER’S APPRENTICE characters.

In The Tournament at Gorlan, Morgarath has kidnap... Read More

The Crack in Space: Off the mark by 72 years

The Crack in Space by Philip K. Dick

Although he displayed remarkable prescience in many of his books, cult author Philip K. Dick was a good 72 years off the mark in his 18th sci-fi novel, The Crack in Space. Originally released as a 40-cent Ace paperback in 1966 (F-377, for all you collectors out there), the novel takes place against the backdrop of the 2080 U.S. presidential election, in which a black man, Jim Briskin, of the Republican-Liberal party, is poised to become the country's first black president. (Dick must have liked the name "Jim Briskin"; in his then-unpublished, non-sci-fi, mainstream novel from the mid-'50s, The Broken Bubble, Jim Briskin is the name of a DJ in San Francisco!) Unlike Barack Obama, whose campaigning centered around the issues of war, economic crisis and h... Read More

Anthem: Inferior to Big Three Dystopias: We, Brave New World, and Nineteen Eighty-Four

Anthem by Ayn Rand

It’s incredible, the number of thematic similarities between Ayn Rand’s Anthem (1938) and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1924), as well as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932). While there’s no direct evidence that Ayn Rand plagiarized those earlier works, she owes an undeniable debt to their dystopian future societies where the individual has been completely sublimated to the needs of the state. Moreover, I believe that We and Brave New World are superior works, both as literature and as novels of ideas. Finally, if we are discussing the greatest dystopian novels of the 20th century, we cannot ignore the most powerful condemn... Read More

Starship Troopers: A 250-page lecture on the ethics and morals of war, violence and race

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

As part of my reading routine, I like to go to the way-back machine and catch up on genre classics. Within sci-fi, a few years ago I reread Frank Herbert's Dune, which is as heavy and awesome as I’d remembered. I discovered and loved Walter M. Miller's wonderful Canticle for Leibowitz.

Robert Heinlein, of course, is one of the heavyweights of the genre, but I'd never read anything of his and my only previous exposure to Starship Troopers (1959) was from the 1997 sci-fi film of the same title. Now keep in mind, the book has only the barest Read More