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Dead Ringers: Mirror, mirror

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Dead Ringers by Christopher Golden

During my final college years, I was frequently greeted with warmth by complete strangers who thought they knew me. It was disconcerting to be hailed across the quad only to have these folks say, “Oh, you’re not her,” when they got a bit closer to me. Apparently I had a doppelganger! It happened again a few years later, when my college boyfriend (with whom I had broken up) got a new girlfriend who looked enough like me to be my mirror image. That was creepy.

So I could easily sympathize with Frank Lindbergh, one of a group of protagonists in Dead Ringers, when a man enters his home late one night who looks exactly like him — “His own eyes. His own smile. His own face.” The man beats him to a pulp and makes himself at home. As far as anyone can tell, Frank continues to go about his business, but in fact the ... Read More

Burn: This Nebula winner was inspired by Walden

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Burn by James Patrick Kelly

James Patrick Kelly’s Burn (2005) was a finalist for the Hugo Award and won the Nebula Award for Best Novella in 2007. As Kelly explains in the afterword, the story was inspired by his dislike of Henry Thoreau’s Walden which depicts a pastoral utopian society where simplicity is valued and technology is shunned.

In Kelly’s version of Walden, an entire small planet has been purchased and terraformed into a forested utopia in keeping with Thoreau’s vision. Those who move there from Earth adopt a simplistic agricultural lifestyle, rejecting technology and all influence from the humans who make up all the other planets in space (the “Upside”). The only problem is that Walden was n... Read More

Gentlemen of the Road: Swashbuckling historical fiction

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Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road (2007) is a swashbuckling historical fiction about a pair of Jewish vagabonds in 10th century Khazaria. Amran is a large Abyssinian, while Zelikman is a somber doctor who explains that he does not save the lives of his patients — he only “prolongs their futility.” We meet our heroes in the midst of a con game and the two rogues soon find themselves in the middle of a royal plot.

Though Gentlemen of the Road is a pretty straightforward historical fiction — there are no sorcerers — there is still plenty here for fantasy fans to enjoy. Chabon’s heroes, for example, strongly recall Frit... Read More

The Night Eternal: Disappointing conclusion to del Toro’s STRAIN TRILOGY

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The Night Eternal by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan

The Night Eternal is the finale to Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's THE STRAIN trilogy and I found it simply… inconsistent. I enjoyed the conclusion to the mythology which includes the genesis of the strain itself, but I was disappointed in the conclusions to the various plot threads. This review will contain some mild spoilers for the ending of The Fall.

The dark and serious mythology really drove the first two books, followed closely by development of the characters. While the myth drove my excitement to finish the trilogy, the flat characterizations in The Night Eternal made it more of a chore. Something was lost at the conclusion of The Fall following the death of a ke... Read More

Star Trek: Starfleet Academy written by Mike Johnson and Ryan Parrott

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Star Trek: Starfleet Academy written by Mike Johnson and Ryan Parrott and illustrated by Derek Charm

Released originally as stand-alone comics, IDW Publishing and Diamond Book Distributors have gathered together all five issues of Star Trek: Starfleet Academy written by Mike Johnson and Ryan Parrott and illustrated by Derek Charm. The storyline, which occurs in the reboot universe of the most recent films, is set (no surprise here), at the Academy and mostly follows a new cast of young cadets, though the main figures of Kirk, Spock, Uhura, etc. are part of a frame. I don’t know if more will be forthcoming, but the potential is there, even if this first foray doesn’t fully meet it.

As mentioned, the major Star Trek characters are involved in the framing story (really “frame” is a bit of a misnomer as this plot-line weaves in and out), which places that plo... Read More

Dark Heart of Magic: A fast-paced teen fantasy adventure

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Dark Heart of Magic by Jennifer Estep

Note: Some spoilers for the first book, Cold Burn of Magic.

In Dark Heart of Magic, the second book in Jennifer Estep’s BLACK BLADE teen urban fantasy series, the adventures of seventeen year old Lila Merriweather ― orphan, ex-homeless person and pickpocket, current bodyguard, and swordfighter extraordinaire ― continue. In a world that contains both normal mortals and magicks, humans endowed with different magical powers, Lila has two extraordinary powers: soulsight, which enables her to read the emotions of another person by looking into their ey... Read More

A Man Without a Country: Essays from the GWB Years

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A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country collects essays about living in George W. Bush’s America. Published in 2005, these essays were written after America invaded Iraq in order to defeat terrorism, to find and neutralize weapons of mass destruction, and to spread freedom and democracy throughout the Middle East.

Briefly summarized, Vonnegut is critical of the state of America, which has been hijacked by psychopaths, and let’s not forget the state of the world, which has been destroyed by a century of fossil fuel emissions that produced nothing more than transportation. He’s not especially glad that so many nuclear weapons remain, either. He defends the arts, humanism, and, generally speaking, compassion and mercy. He regu... Read More

Princess of the Midnight Ball: The twelve princesses dance again, and again…

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Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

The malevolent King Under Stone cuts not one deal, but two, with the queen of the country of Westfalin: first, that she will be able to have children; second, that Westfalin will be victorious in its battles against other countries. In return, the human queen agrees to spend one night per week dancing with the King Under Stone in his underground kingdom. But the once-human king has an agenda, and supernatural beings have a way of twisting their agreements to find loopholes. The Westfalin queen bears no sons, but has twelve daughters ― not coincidentally, matching the number of half-human sons of the King Under Stone, who plans for his sons to have mortal wives and thus break the king out of his underground bondage.

When the queen dies before fulfilling her bargain, the King Under Stone forces her twelve daughters to finish the contract... Read More

The Loch: Like pizza: You know it’s bad for you, but you can’t help but enjoy it

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The Loch by Steve Alten

Steve Alten’s The Loch is full of clichés — the dialogue, the narration, and the plethora of borrowed plot lines from Jaws. You know the good characters from the bad. You can predict which ones will die violently (and deservedly so), and you know which bad guys will turn out to be good guys. But you know what, I thoroughly enjoyed this thriller and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I found myself staying up through the wee hours to get through "just one more chapter." At first I felt a little embarrassment at enjoying it so much. But ultimately I gave in and just went with it.

Now, it's a fact that I was a hardcore Loch Ness Monster fanatic growing up in the 1970's. I'm pretty sure I was the only kid in my school that kept checking out the thin Mystery of Loch Ness from our school library... Read More

Black Rain: A novel’s worth of Indiana Jones opening scenes

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Black Rain by Graham Brown

Black Rain is terrific summer reading fodder that fits squarely in the realm of the lighter-weight Dan Brown-esque genre of tech-thrillers. Other leaders of this genre include James Rollins and Jeremy Robinson, whose stories are a bit formulaic and their characterizations often thinly built.

Graham Brown, however, brings new energy. His core plot involves the Mayan creation myth called "Popul Vuh." After having discovered several crystals that suggest the existence of a tremendous new energy source, a semi-secret non-governmental organization goes to Brazil to find their source.

Brown picks apart certain stories from "Popul Vuh" and develops historic explanations for their origins as his team of ex-military and researchers uncover clue after clue surrounding the origin of the crystals. Black Rain Read More

When the Tripods Came: A prequel to a popular classic children’s SF trilogy

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When the Tripods Came by John Christopher

When the Tripods Came is the fourth book in John Christopher’s TRIPODS science fiction series for children, but it’s actually a prequel, so you could read it first if you like. When the Tripods Came was published in 1988, 20 years after the original trilogy (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, The Pool of Fire), and after the airing in the UK of a BBC series based on the TRIPOD books.

Young readers of the TRIPODS trilogy may have been wondering how humans had been so stupid as to let the aliens subdue them by “capping” them with metal headgear that contro... Read More

Troika: Russian cosmonauts explore a BDO

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Troika by Alastair Reynolds

Troika is a stand-alone hard science fiction novella that was first published in the 2010 anthology Godlike Machines edited by Jonathan Strahan. In 2011 it was published on its own by Subterranean Press. The story is Alastair Reynolds’ take on the Big Dumb Object trope.

In Reynolds’ future, Russia is the world’s only major superpower and has sent three cosmonauts to examine an alien object, which they call the Matryoshka, which has arrived in Earth’s solar system through a wormhole. The story takes place years after the cosmonauts return and one has escaped the mental institution he’s been imprisoned in to visit the female astronomer who was part of their crew and now liv... Read More

The Ship: A sinister, watery utopia

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The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

Lalla has never had a real apple before. She’s eaten tinned apple and dried apple and apple preserve, but never a real apple. This is because sixteen-year-old Lalla is born at the end of the world, in a London where Big Ben is underwater and Regents Park is nothing but a tent city of homeless people and the British Museum is shelter to the starving masses of a dying civilisation. But Lalla’s father has a solution to the destitution her family face. The prospect of The Ship has taken on a mythical quality in Lalla’s life, as she’s heard her parents planning and arguing over it for most of her childhood, and as society teeters on the brink of collapse, the time has finally come to board the legendary vessel.

The Ship consists of 500 hundred lucky souls that her father has personally selected for his new society, though his selection process is not init... Read More

The Pool of Fire: Wraps up the TRIPODS trilogy

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The Pool of Fire by John Christopher

The Pool of Fire is the third book in John Christopher’s TRIPODS dystopian series for children. If you haven’t yet read The White Mountains and The City of Gold and Lead, you need to go back and read those first. (And expect mild spoilers for those previous books in this review.)

At the end of The City of Gold and Lead, Will had escaped from the Masters and was heading back to the rebels in the White Mountains with the important knowledge he gained while he was a slave. In The Pool of Fire, the rebels are using Will’s intelligence to plan a way to defeat the Masters. The scientists and engineers, who are st... Read More

The Lie Tree: In which curiosity and intellect are definitely not ladylike

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The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

Women, as demonstrated by their smaller skull size, are less intelligent than men. This is the bitter lesson Faith, our plucky protagonist in Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree, must learn. In Victorian England, girls must be seen and not heard, as too much intelligence would spoil the female mind "like a rock in a soufflé." But Faith has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and a secret desire of one day becoming a scientist. This dark and twisting tale sees how far she'll pursue that knowledge and the lies she'll tell to obtain it.

The novel opens with Faith's family being uprooted to the craggy island of Vale. Her father is a reverend and an avid natural scientist, and Faith is relegated to follow her family in the rain on foot whil... Read More

Witches of Lychford: Appealing setting

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Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell

Witches of Lychford is a novella that was published by Tor.com last year. You can find a fairly long excerpt at the Tor.com website, but you’d need to purchase the Kindle version ($2.99) or paperback to read the entire story. I acquired the audio version at Audible during a special sale. It’s 3.25 hours long and beautifully read by Marisa Calin who has just the right voices and accents for a story set in a quaint English village.

Paul Cornell’s story is about three women who live in this village. Judith Mawson is a crotchety old woman who seems to consider herself the town’s guardian from evil supernatural forces. Lizzie Blackmore, the town’s vicar, is trying to overcome a tragi... Read More

Timescape: Intimate but slow-moving story about scientists

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Timescape by Gregory Benford

Timescape (1980) has been on my TBR list for 35+ years, I've long wanted to read physicist Gregory Benford, the book won the Nebula Award, and it deals with time paradoxes, which I find fascinating but invariably unconvincing. First off, most of the book’s considerable length is devoted to a slow-moving and detailed portrait of scientists (mostly physicists, but also some biologists and astronomers) at work in the lab as well as their personal relationships with colleagues and wives/girlfriends. So to describe this as a “techno-thriller” would be inaccurate. At the same time, Benford spends a lot more time on character development than most “hard science fiction.” In the end I had mixed feeling about this book. It was interesting at times but too slow-moving to generate much excitement.

The book is set in ... Read More

Serpent Mage: Fair to middling

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Serpent Mage by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

Serpent Mage, book four of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's DEATH GATE CYCLE, is not as good as its immediate predecessor but also manages to be significantly superior to the first two installments in the series. For the most part, the focus on Alfred and Haplo continues to be a good move and the tension is certainly ratcheting up as we get closer to the endgame, but on the other hand this one just didn't feel as tightly constructed as the more gripping Fire Sea.

Following our cliffhanger ending last time, Haplo's master h... Read More

The Sunless Countries: Introduces a new heroine

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The Sunless Countries by Karl Schroeder

The Sunless Countries is the fourth book in Karl Schroeder’s VIRGA series. This book introduces a new town (inside Virga) and a new protagonist. There are explanations of what’s gone on before, so you don’t have to read the first three VIRGA books (Sun of Suns, Queen of Candesce, Pirate Sun) first, but you’ll probably feel more at home if you do.

Our new heroine is Dr. Leal Maspeth, a tutor in the history department at the university on the wheel/town of Sere. Sere is compiled of several spinning wheels and it has no sun. Its citizens’ only sources of light are the artificial lamps they use. That’s why Leal g... Read More

The Wasp Factory: A flash piece of entertainment

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The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

Perusing bookshops in Poland one finds fiction is categorized along the same genre lines as America or Britain. They have horror, fantastyka, science fiction, kryminalny — all of which are readily recognizable to the English speaker. There is one additional category, however, that I’d never seen before: sensacyjny. Neither ‘sensual’ or ‘sensation,’ the word, in this context, translates to ‘sensational.’ Not in the ‘amazing’ or ‘magnificent’ sense of the word, rather ‘sensationalist’ or ‘suddenness’, and it’s in that section one finds books that have certainly taken readers by storm, but less certainly are in possession of layers beyond outright popularity. It’s here one finds Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer, Read More

Pirate Sun: Wants to be a movie

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Pirate Sun by Karl Schroeder

Warning: Review contains minor spoilers for the first two books, though nothing not mentioned in the publisher’s blurb.

Pirate Sun is the third book in Karl Schroeder’s VIRGA series. You probably don’t need to read the previous two books (Sun of Suns and Queen of Candesce) to enjoy Pirate Sun, but the story will make a little more sense if you do. In Sun of Suns we learned of Virga, the huge balloon like structure near the star Vega that contains its own little universe with man-made suns and planets that are often constructed of metal, gears, and cables in a wild steampunk style. Virga’s inhabitants don’t realiz... Read More

Jackaby: Fun start to a fresh YA fantasy series

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Jackaby by William Ritter

William Ritter’s Jackaby is a pleasant young adult mystery with a smart girl main character and a title character who is the Sherlock Holmes of the paranormal.

It’s 1892 in New England, and Abigail Rook has just stepped off a freighter onto the waterfront of New Fiddleham. Abigail is British, the daughter of a socialite mother and a globe-trotting paleontologist father. Raised to be a lacy, docile, obedient girl, Abigail kicked over the traces and went to Europe on a “dinosaur dig” of her own. The funds ran out, and now she is stuck in New England.

Her first night in the new town, Abigail encounters a young man who can describe just where she’s been in Europe. He says he is doing it from observation, but what he claims to be observing are the supernatural creatures who tagged along with Abigail,... Read More

Fridays with the Wizards: Wizard-hunting in the castle

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Fridays with the Wizards by Jessica Day George

Fridays with the Wizards is the fourth and most recent book in Jessica Day George’s CASTLE GLOWER series about twelve year old Princess Celie and the magical, semi-sentient castle where she lives. Celie and her brother and sister and friends have just returned from an unexpected adventure in another land, as related in the previous two books in the series, Wednesdays in the Tower and Thursdays with the Crown, where they tangled with the local wizards, befriended the king and q... Read More

The Rithian Terror: A pleasing blend of hard SF and hard-boiled espionage

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The Rithian Terror by Damon Knight

A pleasing blend of futuristic science fiction and hard-boiled espionage caper, The Rithian Terror, by Damon Knight, first saw the light of day in the January 1953 issue of Startling Stories, under the title Double Meaning. For 25 cents, readers also got, in that same issue, a Murray Leinster novelette entitled “Overdrive,” as well as five short stories, including Isaac Asimov’s “Button, Button” and Jack Vance’s “Three-Legged Joe;” that’s what I call value for money! Anyway, the Knight novel later appeared in one of those cute little “Ace doubl... Read More

Rage of the Fallen: Tom et al go to Ireland

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Rage of the Fallen by Joseph Delaney

In Rage of the Fallen, the eighth book in Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE / WARDSTONE CHRONICLES horror series for children, Tom flees with Alice and the Spook to Ireland to avoid the war that has engulfed their county. The evil creatures who live in Ireland are different from those they’re used to, so Tom gets to learn about, and attempt to defeat, these new threats to the world. Basically it’s the same sort of trouble he’s always been dealing with, just more Celtic-inspired. There are Irish gods, Irish witches, Irish mages, Irish ghosts, Irish blood-suckers, etc.

In addition to these new challenges, the old ones remain. The Fiend continues to dog him as we wait for their final confrontatio... Read More