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Blind Lake: Lockdown at an Interplanetary Observation Facility

Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson

Of course I know what to expect when reading one of Robert Charles Wilson’s novels: a strange technology or entity has a localized effect that snowballs until it has the potential to completely change the world. We follow the ride primarily from the point of view of one everyman character, but he just happens to know both the scientists and the politicians that are responding to the strange technology. 300 pages later, the story is finished.

But that’s not how Blind Lake works — or at least not exactly.

Yes, there is a strange technology — the O/BECs. Are the O/BECs like telescopes? Well, they allow us to see distant planets, including one that hosts sentient life (aliens!). The center of these machines is referred to as “eyeball alley,” but perhaps the true center of these machines is their quantum technology and adaptive cod... Read More

The Short Victorious War: Honor feels more human

The Short Victorious War by David Weber

So far I have not much cared for David Weber’s extremely popular HONOR HARRINGTON series. In the first two books, On Basilisk Station and The Honor of the Queen, I thought there was way too much exposition and that Honor was cold and distant and too much of a Mary Sue (here are my reviews). It’s hard for me to enjoy a series if I don’t like its protagonist unless it has some other excellent qualities that can make up for that. I decided to give Honor Harrington another try, though, because Marion has recently written a review for the fourth book, Field of Dishonor, and I already had the third book, The Short Victorious War, in my Audibl... Read More

Nova: A New-Wave Grail Quest space opera from the 1960s

Nova by Samuel R. Delany

Nova is Samuel "Chip" Delany's 1968 space opera with mythic/Grail Quest overtones. It is packed with different themes, subtexts, allegorical and cultural references, and literary experiments, and the young author (just 25 years old) is clearly a very talented, intelligent, and passionate writer.

But I didn't enjoy it, sadly. While I thought Babel-17 was a very fast-paced, vivid and engaging space opera that centered on language and identity, Nova felt very turgid and forced. Why, you ask? Well, the author was determined to mold the story along the lines of a Grail Quest, Moby Dick, and Jason and the Argonauts, with the goal being a race to retrieve the super-material Illyrion from the heart of a recently-explode... Read More

Justice, Inc.: Fun, but a little overstuffed

Justice, Inc. by Michael Uslan (Author), Giovanni Timpano (Illustrator), Alex Ross (Illustrator)

Justice, Inc.
is a complete storyline mashup of three pulp heroes: Doc Savage, The Shadow, and The Avenger. Written by Michael Uslan and drawn by Giovanni Timpano, the end result is a bit mixed, and some of one's enjoyment will probably be based on one's awareness of those three in their original incarnations, as well as the ability to pick up on some inside jokes in the text/artwork.

The three are brought together by a major threat from several pulp villains whom I won't name as one of them is (I think) meant to be a behind-the-curtain "big reveal" kind of moment. What is an interesting twist in this particular mash-up tale is that while The Shadow and The Avenger are their old selves, Doc Savage is the contemporary version, with this time travel thread made possible via a su... Read More

The Radiant Seas: Better than previous books

The Radiant Seas by Catherine Asaro

The Radiant Seas is the direct sequel to Primary Inversion, Catherine Asaro’s debut novel which introduces her Skolian Empire. Readers should note that the book Catch the Lightning was published between Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas, its sequel. If you’ve just read Primary Inversion (which you need to read before picking up The Radiant Seas), I advise skipping Catch the Lightning for now (or forever). This review will contain spoilers for Primary Inversion.

The Radiant Seas begins a short time before Primary Inversion ends — ... Read More

Primary Inversion: I should have loved this

Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro

Dr. Catherine Asaro’s award-winning SKOLIAN EMPIRE series has long been on my TBR list because of its unusual blend of space opera, romance, quantum physics, relativity, genetic engineering, biomechanics, and computer science — all written by a Harvard-educated female physicist. That sounds like something I’d devour.

The saga is about the Skolian Empire and their long-time enemies, the Eubian (Trader) Empire. They are distant spacefaring civilizations that must have been seeded by humans from Earth many millennia ago, though we don’t yet know how that happened. The Skolian Empire used to be run by a monarchy called The Ruby Dynasty that has the psionic powers of empathy and telepathy. At this point the monarchy is mainly a figurehead while politicians run the empire, but the descendants of the Ruby Dynasty are still needed because they are the only ones who can control ... Read More

Memory of Water: Lyrical post-apocalyptic Scandinavian tea ceremonies

Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta

It’s the distant future and the world seems to be quieting after the tumultuous Twilight Century that followed the end of the oil age. Still, it’s a difficult time. New Qian has taken over the Scandinavian Union. Water is scarce, so people survive on monthly water rations.

Noria Kaitio lives with her parents. Her mother is a scholar, but her father raised her to follow in his footsteps, so Noria trains every day to become a tea master like him. For the most part, her family follows the old traditions. However, her ancestors have also kept a dangerous secret: they know the location of a spring that still gives clean water.

Now, it seems, the military has begun to suspect their secret. Commander Taro visits their backwater village to try Master Kaitio’s tea. When he remarks on the clarity of the water and of the tea, he is offering both a compliment and a threat. Soon, Taro’s ... Read More

Trumps of Doom: Begins the Merlin Cycle

Trumps of Doom by Roger Zelazny

Trumps of Doom (1985) is the sixth novel in Roger Zelazny’s immensely popular AMBER CHRONICLES. It does not stand alone. You need to read the previous books first, starting with Nine Princes in Amber, and you’ll need to read the rest of the series if you want to get the full story.

The first five AMBER books, which are more popular than the latter five, told the story of Corwin, one of the nine princes of Amber, the one true world (our world is only a “Shadow” parallel universe). Corwin’s family, which rules Amber, is somewhat dysfunctional. The story details their plotting and scheming against each other while they try to keep at bay the forces of Chaos that are constantly assaulting them. They have a few magical... Read More

Edge of the Universe: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.

In a way, the literary mystique that surrounds Cormac McCarthy's The Road makes it easier for me when it comes to review it. Several of the world's most prestigious literary reviewers have already dedicated thousands of words dissecting McCarthy's prose, lifting the veil from his words to reveal the obvious — to them — genius of his brain. This autopsy performed by dozens leaves me, a humble reader and reviewer, without having to bear the weight of having to go from word to word try... Read More

Corsair: Solid, if a bit thin in its elements

Corsair by James Cambias

I was a fan of James Cambias’ debut novel, A Darkling Sea, a complex tale of First Contact that left lots of room at the end for a continuation of that story. Instead though, Cambias took a pretty strong detour with his second novel, Corsair, which as its name suggests has to do with space piracy, though perhaps not in the usual fashion.

The phrase “space pirates” usually conjures up in one’s mind (well, this mind at least) a space opera-like story, with FTL ships barreling along in interstellar space, energy weapons and force fields, spaced suited and armored boarding parties a la all those books from my youth: Isa... Read More

Cetaganda: Dated, but still a good time

Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cetaganda
, one of Lois McMaster Bujold’s early VORKOSIGAN SAGA books, was originally published in 1996. It features Miles Vorkosigan when he is in his early twenties. I had never read this early entry in the series, and while I have liked all of McMaster’s books about Miles and his family, I don’t think this one aged particularly well. Still, most of it is fun, and Miles is always a fascinating character to watch.

Miles is the only child of the second-most powerful man on Barrayar. His mother is formidable in her own right. He is an aristocrat and a genius with a knack for out-of-the-box thinking. He is a natural leader, commanding personal loyalty nearly effortlessly.

“He’s a Marty Stu!” you cry. Well, there a few other things to ... Read More

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