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

The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

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’s surface. Each spire is about two miles in diameter and is ruled... 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

The Secrets of Blood and Bone: Interesting magic informs this contemporary fantasy

The Secrets of Blood and Bone by Rebecca Alexander

The Secrets of Blood and Bone is the second book in Rebecca Alexander’s JACKDAW HAMMOND fantasy series. I haven’t read the first book, The Secrets of Life and Death, yet but I found I could follow events in this book with little trouble. There may be some mild spoilers for the first book in this review.

I got interested in this book when I read Alexander’s post on John Scalzi’s Whatever blog, where she talked about making Edward Kelley a major character. Edward Kelley, a sometime colleague of Elizabethan-era philosopher John Dee, is... well, an histori... Read More

Searching for Dragons: Funny and entertaining

Searching for Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

It’s been more than 5 years since I read Dealing with Dragons, the first book in Patricia C. Wrede’s ENCHANTED FOREST CHRONICLES. I loved the way the story, written in 1990, ridiculed and subverted the princess stereotype. It stars Cimorene, a teenage princess who runs away to avoid marrying a handsome but dull prince. She ends up working as a housekeeper and librarian for a dragon. (Housekeeper and Librarian seem like “female” roles, but at least these are the jobs Cimorene wants to do and she doesn’t shy away from “men’s” work.)

In my quest to finish all the series I’ve started, I read the rest of the ENCHANTED FOREST CHRONICLES this week. Searching for Dragons, the second book, giv... Read More

Lies, Inc.: Take two Excedrin

Lies, Inc by Philip K. Dick

Of all the sci-fi novels by cult author Philip K. Dick, The Unteleported Man — in its later, expanded version known as Lies, Inc. — has the most complicated publishing history. Those who are interested in the minutiae of this nearly 40-year saga are advised to seek out Paul Williams' afterword in the currently available Vintage edition. In a nutshell, let's just say that The Unteleported Man first saw the light of day in the December '64 issue of Fantastic magazine and then in one of those cute little "Ace doubles" in 1966. It wasn't until 1983 that the expanded edition appeared, incorporating 100 pages (around 30,000 words) of Dick's manuscript that had been previously rejected by Ace editor Don Wollheim, but with some missing sections st... Read More

Snow Like Ashes: Some captivating ideas coupled with familiar details

Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

Snow Like Ashes is Sara Raasch’s debut fantasy novel and for that I commend its fast pace and the strong, if simple, premise. A lack of depth ultimately lets it down but Raasch may well be one to watch.

Our heroine, Meira, lives in a country divided into seasonal kingdoms (in Summer kingdom it is always summer; in Spring kingdom it is always spring — you get the idea). When Meira was a baby, her kingdom (Winter) was taken over by the dominant Spring. Along with a few others, including the infant heir to the throne of Winter, and a battle hardened warrior simply called “Sir”, she escaped. We meet the small group of survivors living in exile in the lands outside of the Seasons where they are training to overthrow the Spring kingdom and reclaim their homeland. To do so they need to reclaim both parts of a magical conduit that exists in the form of a loc... Read More

Chasing the Phoenix: A mostly tasty snack between more filling meals

Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick

Michael Swanwick’s Chasing the Phoenix is a slight but solidly enjoyably pleasant story of two clever con-artists that may remind readers of Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser a bit, though the reflection/homage is perhaps a bit pale. The pleasures of the book arise from the humorously complex situations the two fall into (and have to escape out of), the sharp character banter, and the generally witty writing all around. How far those attributes carry you past an intriguing but thin worldbuilding, the not-too-substantive plot, and somewhat dull characters will go a long way to determining your level of enjoyment.

The setting is a “Post-Utopia” far future that has only recently begun to clamber out of the ... Read More

The Primate Directive by Scott and David Tipton

The Primate Directive written by Scott and David Tipton, illustrated by Rachael Stott, colored by Charlie Kirchoff

Really, I’ve got to say it’s shocking to me that there hasn’t been a Star Trek/Planet of the Apes crossover until now, with The Primate Directive, a joint graphic venture between IDW Comics and Boom! Studios. The five-volume story is written by Scott and David Tipton, illustrated by Rachael Stott, and colored by Charlie Kirchoff. As a mashup concept, it’s brilliant. As far as this particular execution goes, though, well, it has its ups and downs, with most of the former coming in the first half.

The story opens on an arms deal with one side pro... Read More

The Invasion of the Tearling: I’m not warming up to this series

The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Erika Johansen’s The Invasion of the Tearling is the second book in a planned trilogy, the sequel to The Queen of the Tearling. Often, the second book in a trilogy reads like a bridge between the set-up and the thrilling climax. The Invasion of the Tearling is no bridge book. Johansen adds characters and drama while filling in some important back-story, most particularly the origin of the three kingdoms we see in this adventure. This book also has its own dramatic arc, even though it ends on a cliffhanger.

Kelsea Raleigh was an insecure young woman in Book One, filled with self-doubt and constantly worrying that she wasn’t pretty. She managed to assume the throne of the Tear and win the loyalty of her subjects. She ended the horrific tribute of slaves that her nation paid to the powerful... Read More

Hunter: Magical monster-hunting

Hunter by Mercedes Lackey

In Mercedes Lackey’s new young adult novel Hunter, post-apocalyptic science fiction mixes with magical fantasy to produce an adventure in the tradition of The Hunger Games and Divergent. A series of catastrophes called the “Diseray” — a corruption of Dies Irae — has hit our world: a nuclear bomb (blamed on Christians) was set off in the near east, the North and South Poles switched, plagues killed countless people, and storms have permanently grounded most aircraft. These disasters culminated in the Breakthrough, a permanent rift in reality that allows deadly magical creatures to invade our world from the Otherside. Luckily, along with all of the hostile magical monsters have come some friendly ones, called Hounds by humans, even t... Read More

Konga: A somnolent stroll around Big Ben

Konga directed by John Lemont

Released in 1961, the U.S./U.K. co-production of Konga marked the first time that theater goers were shown a giant ape going bonkers in the heart of a major city since King Kong itself, 28 years earlier. Of course, fans had been given the 1933 sequel Son of Kong, but in that one, Kong, Jr. is more of a good-natured, oversized pet, and one who never makes it off Skull Island and into civilization, as had the old man. And in Mighty Joe Young (1949), although the titular big guy does engage in a mild temper tantrum, he is more fondly remembered today for his heroic efforts at a small-town, burning orphanage. In Konga, however, the ape is huge and the rampage is through the heart of London, and if Konga's fury is a bit on the somnolent side and his general appearance rendered somewhat tacky by dint of some truly subpar special FX, these two factors do not prevent the film f... Read More

Without a Summer: Cold magic in Regency England

Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal

Without a Summer is the third book in Mary Robinette Kowal’s GLAMOURIST fantasy series set in an alternative Regency-era England where magic, or "glamour," is used as an art form to create intricate visual illusions. Jane and Vincent, both accomplished glamour artists, are visiting with Jane’s parents and younger sister Melody in the country.  It’s an unseasonably cold spring, giving rise to concerns about the harvest. Jane and Melody’s father is concerned that a poor harvest could affect his ability to provide Melody with a suitable dowry; Melody is frustrated with the dearth of interesting and marriageable men in the area.

So when Jane and Vincent are offered the change to create a magical illusion for a London family, they invite Melody to come along and enjoy a stay in London. But some unexpected troubles and complicat... Read More

The Map to Everywhere: A new whimsical series for kids

The Map to Everywhere by Carrie Ryan & John Parke Davis

The Map to Everywhere is the first installment in a new four-book children’s fantasy series by Carrie Ryan and her husband John Parke Davis. I listened to it with my daughter Tali, who just turned 13. The story made us smile and chuckle occasionally and generally kept us entertained for several hours. We thought it compared favorably with other new fantasy series for kids, but we weren’t blown away.

The story is about two children in tough situations. Marrill is an American girl who gets to travel around the world with her archeologist parents. She has just found out, though, that her mother is sick and the family will have to settle down for a while so that her mom can get treatment. That means Marrill will be going to school and doing ... Read More

Beneath London: Langdon St. Ives meets vampiric mushrooms

Beneath London by James P. Blaylock

James P. Blaylock’s stories are an acquired taste, I think. Or maybe it’s just that the reader needs exactly the right combination of quirks and proclivities to truly appreciate them. I am that reader. Not all the time, but regularly enough to recognize when my mood would benefit from opening one of Blaylock’s books. When this happens, I usually choose a LANGDON ST. IVES story. Each of these steampunk stories is set in an alternate Victorian London and each can stand alone.

Langdon St. Ives is a retired professor who spends his time pursuing eccentric scientific hobbies. Recently he’d been building an airship in the barn on the country property that he and his wife Alice (who loves to fish) recently moved to after they left London. The airship was destroyed in his last adventure... Read More

The Kings of Clonmel: Another adventure for Flanagan’s superheroes

The Kings of Clonmel by John Flanagan

The Kings of Clonmel, the eighth book in John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series, begins a new story arc that occurs after the events of book six, The Siege of Macindaw. (Book seven, Erak’s Ransom, went back in time a bit.) For the best experience, you’ll want to read all the previous books before beginning this one. Book nine, Halt’s Peril, is a direct sequel to The Kings of Clonmel.

As the story begins, Will, now a full-fledged Ranger, is at the annual Rangers meeting, overseeing the testing of other apprentices. During this process he is amazed to discover that some of his past exploits, such as the siege of Castle Macindaw, are being used in testing exercises... Read More

Erak’s Ransom: Goes back in time

Erak’s Ransom by John Flanagan

Erak’s Ransom is the seventh book in John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series, but chronologically its story occurs after the events of book four, The Battle for Skandia. I would recommend reading Erak’s Ransom after book four and before you read books five and six (The Sorcerer of the North and The Siege of Macindaw). Since I had already read those stories and knew what happened to the characters, it reduced some of the tension. This review will contain spoilers for books one through four.

Will, Halt, Horace and Princess Cassandra are back from overseas after helping Skandia, their former enemy, defeat a common foe. They help broker a peace with Erak, Skandia’s new Ob... Read More

Cold Burn of Magic: Power struggles in the magical Mafia

Cold Burn of Magic by Jennifer Estep

In Jennifer Estep’s Cold Burn of Magic, a 2015 young adult fantasy novel and the first book in her BLACK BLADE urban fantasy series, the world is divided into mortals and magicks, humans who have some type of magical power. The southern U.S. town of Cloudburst Falls, a hotbed of magical power, caters to tourists who want to see magical people and creatures. It’s reminiscent of Harry Potter World, except that it contains real magic, including pixies who are household servants and monsters like the aptly named lochnesses, who lurk under bridges and require a toll of jewelry or money from all who pass over their bridges. Cloudburst Falls is controlled by mafia-like families with powerful magical abilities, particularly the Draconi and Sinclair Families.

Lila,... Read More

The Siege of Macindaw: Fans won’t care about the flaws

The Siege of Macindaw by John Flanagan

This review will contain a few plot spoilers for previous books in the series.

The Siege of Macindaw is book six of John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series and it’s a direct sequel to the previous book, The Sorcerer of the North. When we left Will at the end of that book, his girlfriend Alyss had been captured and imprisoned in Castle Macindaw by a man who has allied himself with the Scotti, invaders from the north who plan to use the castle to get a toe-hold in Araluen. Now Will must use all his wits and resources to get Alyss out of the castle while saving his country from the Scotti invaders.

The solution to Will’s problem seemed obvious to me right from the start, so the plot of The Siege of Macindaw Read More

Horrible Monday: Vampires of Manhattan by Melissa de la Cruz

Vampires of Manhattan by Melissa de la Cruz

Vampires of Manhattan is the first book in Melissa de la Cruz’s latest urban paranormal fantasy series, THE NEW BLUE BLOODS COVEN. This new series is a continuation of her BLUE BLOODS septalogy, and Vampires of Manhattan picks up ten years after the events of Gates of Paradise, the seventh and last BLUE BLOODS book. Though there are many moments of exposition for the previous series, I would not recommend starting with Vampires of Manhattan, as readers may have a hard time keeping track of the complicated history and mythology de la Cruz presents. For my own part, I found Wikipedia to be tremendously helpful.

As is suggested by the series ... Read More

The Sorcerer of the North: World-building problems begin to show

The Sorcerer of the North by John Flanagan

This review will contain minor spoilers for John Flanagan’s previous RANGER’S APPRENTICE books: The Ruins of Gorlan, The Burning Bridge, The Icebound Land, and The Battle for Skandia. The Sorcerer of the North begins a new story arc and new readers could start here, but for maximum enjoyment, I recommend going back and starting with The Ruins of Gorlan.

When we left Will and his friends at the end of The Battle for Skandia, our hero Will, a Ranger’s apprentice, had finally returned home to Araluen with the princess Cassandra after they had been kidnapped by Araluen’s long-time Viking-ish enemies, the Skandians. ... Read More

The Chart of Tomorrows: Willrich expands his fantasy world

The Chart of Tomorrows by Chris Willrich

The Chart of Tomorrows is the third book in Chris Willrich’s GAUNT AND BONE series. Book One, The Scroll of Years, began with Persimmon Gaunt, a rebellious poet, and Imago Bone, her thief husband, leaving a place that looked a little bit like the cities of classical European antiquity, and having adventures in a land like China. In the second book, Willrich expanded his mythology further, including a people of the steppes, the Karvaks, modeled on the Mongols. Along the way, Willrich mixes conventional folklore with his own magical systems. In The Chart of Tomorrows, he’s turned to the north, introducing northern European folklore, in a story filled with trolls, cow-maidens, battle-axes and runes. Read More

Seveneves: 600 pages of info-dumping leaves little room for plot development

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

I must be developing an immunity to the Kool-Aid that Neal Stephenson serves his fans. Snow Crash and Crytonomicon are two of my favorite books, but I was lukewarm towards The Diamond Age and then hit a wall with Anathem. So when I heard he was coming out with Seveneves, and that the plot was much more like traditional “hard” SF than his earlier cyberpunk, steampunk, nanotech, cryptography, technothriller works, I wasn’t sure I’d like it. And after reading Kate’s review, what I read confirmed my suspicions. But really there’s only one way to know if you like a book or not — you have to read it for yourself.

Basically, when you have over 900 pages to work with, you ca... Read More

Dark Eden: Lord of the Flies in Space

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

Chris Beckett’s Dark Eden has a backstory to rival the book of Genesis. Several generations ago, two humans, Tommy and Gela, survived a crash-landing on a planet without a sun. The planet was not devoid of life or light, though; glowing plants and animals survived by feeding off of the planet’s thermal energy. On this new planet, which they called Eden, Tommy and Gela have children, becoming the Adam and Eve of a new race of humans.

Now, generations later, their progeny, several dozen people, many of whom are afflicted with birth defects and called “batfaces” or “clawfeet,” live huddled together in a relatively safe area of Eden, frightened to explore beyond the snowy mountains or deep waters that border their land. A young man, John Redlantern, wants to change that. Defying the orders of the clan’s leader, David, the charismatic John gathers a group of dissenters... Read More

Shadow Show: Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury by various authors and artists

Shadow Show: Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury by various authors and artists

Shadow Show is a graphic adaptation of a previously released anthology of the same name. That collection rounded up a host of well-known authors and asked them to write original stories inspired by and/or as a tribute to Ray Bradbury. The graphic version, which uses just a few of the stories from the original anthology, includes:

“By the Silver Waters of Lake Champlain” by Joe Hill
“The Man Who Forgot Ray Brad... Read More