4.5

Click on stars to FIND REVIEWS BY RATING:
Recommended:
Not Recommended:

The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories: The successor to Robert E. Howard

The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories by Clifford Ball

If I were to ask 1,000 people what the words “Clifford Ball” meant to them, those to whom it meant anything, I have a feeling, would reply that the Clifford Ball was the first weekendlong concert bash that the jam band Phish ever held, back in August ’96, in Plattsburgh, N.Y. Fewer, perhaps, would know that the provenance for the name of that shindig was the aviation pioneer Clifford Ball, whose moniker the Phish folks thought would be a cool and punny handle for their event. But it is not of these two Clifford Balls that I would speak here, but rather of another: Clifford Ball the author, whose claim to fame today is his being the first writer to continue on in the sword-and-sorcery tradition after the suicide of Robert E. Howard in 1936. If you have not previously heard of Clifford Ball the w... Read More

The Sapphire Goddess: A very fine and long overdue collection

The Sapphire Goddess: The Fantasies of Nictzin Dyalhis by Nictzin Dyalhis

Unless you have perused the pages of the dozen or so Weird Tales anthologies that have been released over the past 50-plus years, odds are that you have not come across the name “Nictzin Dyalhis.” But during the 15-year period 1925 - 1940, Dyalhis was extraordinarily popular with the readers of that legendary pulp magazine, despite the fact that he only had eight stories published therein during that decade and a half. And of those eight, four were voted by the readers as the most popular of the issues in which they appeared, and five of them copped the front-cover illustration. This reader had previously encountered three of those tales in various anthologies, had loved them all, and was curious to read more. The only problem was, an anthology of Dyalhis’ work had never been compiled, until the fine folks at DMR released, this past summer, ... Read More

Wild Seed: Two African immortals battle for supremacy in early America

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

Wild Seed (1980) was written last in Octavia Butler’s 5-book PATTERNIST series, but comes first in chronology. The next books, by internal chronology, are Mind of My Mind (1977), Clay’s Ark (1984), and Patternmaster (1976). Butler was later unsatisfied with Survivor (1978) and elected to not have it reprinted, so I will focus on the main four volumes. Wild Seed is an origin story set well before later books and can stand on its own. It’s one of those books whose basic plot could be described in just a few paragraphs, but the themes it explores are deep, challenging, and thought-provoki... Read More

Deliver Me From Eva: A flabbergasting thrill ride

Deliver Me From Eva by Paul Bailey

Once again, I am indebted to Stephen Jones and Kim Newman’s excellent overview volume Horror: 100 Best Books for alerting me to the existence of a great read that I probably would never have run across without their assistance. In this case, the novel in question is Paul Bailey’s Deliver Me From Eva, which was chosen for inclusion in that volume by no less a figure than Forrest J. Ackerman — former editor of the beloved magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, renowned literary agent, and legendary collector of horror and sci-fi movie memorabilia — himself. The book, Ackerman tells us, was one that he first read upon its initial publication in 1946, but had never forgotten, and any reader of this absolutely flabbergasting thrill ride will surely understand why.

Paul Bailey, I should perhap... Read More

Fire & Heist: An easy contender for Best YA of 2018

Fire & Heist by Sarah Beth Durst

I’d only previously read Sarah Beth Dursts QUEENS OF RENTHIA series, so I was excited to have the chance to read Fire & Heist (2018), her latest YA novel. I never know whether an author whose adult work is enjoyable will write well for a young adult audience — or vice versa — but I’m pleased to be able to report that Durst is clearly adept at writing for any age group, and particularly so for nerdy readers.

Sky Hawkins is the kind of leading character many readers would love to hate. She comes from a family who “owned at one time a fleet of Aston Martins and [gave] the gardener his own Tesla,” and readily acknowledges that she might seem like just another “poor little rich girl” in Aspen, Colorado who deserves “the world’s smallest ... Read More

SAGA Volume 3: This series is so addictive!

SAGA Volume 3, Issues 13-18 by Brian K. Vaughan (author) & Fiona Staples (illustrator)

This highly original space opera romance is incredibly popular, and for good reason. Anyone who has read Saga Vols 1 & 2 will undoubtedly be fans of star-crossed lovers Alana & Marko, who come from opposing sides of a galactic war, Marko’s sharp-tongued mother Klara, freelancer assassin The Will and his lie-detecting cat, and Marko’s ex-fiance Gwendolyn. Not to mention the difficult-to-hate Prince Robot IV and all the other bizarre creations of Vaughan and Staples. The authors have continued to breath life into their fresh, genre-bending blend of space opera, romance, family drama, and chase amid a galactic war tale with an amazingly effortless sense of humor. What I like most about this series is their willingness to go off on weird story tangents without losing the momentum of the larger story.

Witho... Read More

A Conspiracy of Truths: Interesting debut novel from a writer to watch

A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland

Marion: We never know the name of our first-person narrator in Alexandra Rowland’s 2018 novel A Conspiracy of Truths. People call him Chant, but that is his vocation, not a name (he abandoned his name when he became a Chant). Chants gather stories and retell them. They go from place to place pursuing their craft, and in the isolated and insular country of Nuryevet, Chants offends the wrong people, and is put on trial for witchcraft.

As soon as he opens his mouth to defend himself, Chant makes things worse, and he’s imprisoned and facing a death sentence. His publicly appointed advocate, Consanza, is a reluctant helper at best, and certainly not an ally. Worse, Chant has come to the attention of several of the Primes, the elected rules of Nuryevet — in particular, the Queen of Pattern (think CIA). He uses the only tool ava... Read More

How to Love the Universe: A Scientist’s Odes to the Hidden Beauty Behind the Visible World

How to Love the Universe: A Scientist’s Odes to the Hidden Beauty Behind the Visible World by Stefan Klein

In How to Love the Universe: A Scientist’s Odes to the Hidden Beauty Behind the Visible World (2018), Stefan Klein concisely introduces nearly a dozen major physics concepts in brief, engaging chapters that clearly inform even as they often entertain. Due to their brevity, the explanations are relatively simplified, but thanks to Klein’s economy of language and knack for analogy/metaphor, not overly so. Which makes the collection of essays a good primer to modern physics and an excellent stepping stone into longer, more substantive works on the subject.

The theme of the book is conveyed directly in the introduction, where Klein discusses how modern physics “changes our thinking, the way we see the world ... [allows us] to look behind the veil of that which still seems self-ev... Read More

Alice Isn’t Dead: Anxiety Bros, unite!

Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink

Alice Isn’t Dead (2018) is a stand-alone novel, adapted from the three-season podcast of the same name, both of which were created by Joseph Fink. Where I would have given the podcast 3.5 stars, the novel is much more cohesive and much more successful at telling this story. Lines like “Earl’s eyes were empty pools of water” and “The subtext of America wasn’t just text here, it was in letters five feet tall” are less awkward, more natural, when delivered by an omniscient narrator rather than a lone woman monologuing over a CB radio to anyone who will listen.

Keisha Taylor wasn’t always a long-haul trucker. But then, her wife Alice wasn’t always dead. (Or is she? It’s certainly up for debate, which is why Keisha’s on the road to begin with.) One day, without any ... Read More

La Belle Sauvage: Our different opinions

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

I always find it a little nerve-wracking when an author returns to a successful series after a long time away. There's always the fear, for me at least, that one of two things is going to happen: either the author will be nostalgic about the original work to the extent that s/he makes the new book into a fawning tribute without substance, or the author will have changed enough in the time between installments that the magic is just gone. I'm happy to say, though, that Philip Pullman's new novel dispels both of those fears. La Belle Sauvage (2017) is, though not quite as much a game-changer as The Golden Compass, still a fantastic novel in its own right and a great opener to THE BOOK OF ... Read More

No Sleep Till Doomsday: This series fires on all cylinders

No Sleep Till Doomsday by Laurence MacNaughton

No Sleep Till Doomsday (2018), the third installment in Laurence MacNaughton’s DRU JASPER series, delivers all the excitement, action, romance and humor I expect from these books — plus, it brings in a new muscle-car who is an ancient rival of the speed-demon Hellbringer, and I’ve come to love Hellbringer.

Dru is a crystal sorceress in Denver, Colorado, who together with a group of allies is trying to stop the breaking of the seals on the Apocalypse Scroll and the resulting Doomsday. Dru is aided by her demonically possessed boyfriend Greyson, who drives Hellbringer; her friend Rane, who can turn herself into metal or stone; and her non-magical but knowledgeable store employee, Opal. She is sometimes aided and more often hindered by Salem... Read More

Magic Triumphs: Wrapping up the KATE DANIELS adventures

Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews

Kate Daniels, after nine novels’ worth of fighting magical villains, romancing Curran the Beast Lord, developing her own über-magical powers and preternatural sword-fighting abilities, and magically claiming all of Atlanta as her territory (and that’s only a start), gets an ending to her story in Magic Triumphs (2018), the tenth and final book in Ilona Andrews’ popular KATE DANIELS series. Well, kind of.

Kate is married to Curran now, who’s passed his title as Beast Lord on to Jim. After a very brief prologue in which Kate gives birth, the story jumps forward in time thirteen months, when their son Conlan is a precocious one year old whose antics keep his parents hopping. He still hasn’t started shapeshifting, which is causing Atlanta’s Pack to... Read More

Bloody Rose: An excellent sequel

Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames

On the face of it, Bloody Rose (2018) is a lot like Kings of the Wyld, the first novel in Nicholas Eames' THE BAND series: it's still following the original's fun premise (i.e. "questing bands are basically just rock bands, complete with touring and groupies"), and it boasts much of the same humor, heart, and hard-rock-cafe sensibility. It also carries on the tradition of being, you know, awfully good. But there are some notable changes lurking under the surface. Bloody Rose is the kind of sequel that tries to go bigger and darker than the first, the Empire Strikes Back to the original's Star Wars. And I'm happy to say it's quite successful.

... Read More

Moon of the Crusted Snow: History repeats itself as the world ends

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

History, legacy, identity, family, and community are all at stake against the backdrop of the modern world coming quietly to an end in Waubgeshig Rice’s slim, but powerful, novel Moon of the Crusted Snow (2018). Survival isn’t just an issue of preparation here — in order for any one person to thrive, the community must be strong; in order for the community to survive, each person must contribute unselfishly. Human nature being what it is, unfortunately, that’s often easier said than done.

As winter draws near, Evan Whitesky and many other members of his small Anishinaabe community are stocking up supplies, food, and firewood. The electricity, television, and phone services the reservation receives from nearby Canadian suppliers aren’t always reliable, so the tribal council places an imperative on being as self-sufficient as possible. B... Read More

Alabaster (Volumes I and II): A dark but compelling story

Alabaster (Volumes I and II) by Osamu Tezuka



Alabaster (Volumes I and II), written by Osamu Tezuka in 1970 and published in 2015 by Digital Manga, Inc., is a dark but compelling story that touches on the evils of which humankind are capable and the resentment and desire for revenge that results in those who are mistreated. Alabaster’s story allows Tezuka to critique bigotry, specifically focusing on racism in the United States. James Block, a young African-American gold-medal winning Olympic athlete, turned into Alabaster because of his experience with the woman he loved as a young man. After a year of dating, James Block proposes to Susan Ross, only to be laughed at, mocked, and turned down by her because he was a black man. She displays shock that he would even imagine that she would stoop to marry ... Read More

The Euphrates Tree: Deals with serious topics of great importance

The Euphrates Tree by Osamu Tezuka

The Euphrates Tree is written and drawn by the great Osamu Tezuka, who is known as the “God of Comics.” Tezuka warns us in the postscript not to take this story too seriously; however, I am afraid I will have to go against his advice, because I believe this volume of manga deals with serious topics of great importance. It is about three high school students who visit Jova Island and discover the mysterious Euphrates tree. The tree bears fruit that, if eaten, will give the person or animal great powers and heightened intelligence, but the one aspect of a person that is not changed is their sense of morality.

The three children — Oya, Kama, and Shiko — go to the island for their biology class to study a primitive forest. Tezuka suggests that the island has religious associations for us since at times, he hints that it shares qualities in common with the Garden of E... Read More

Summers at Castle Auburn: A lovely YA romance

Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn

Summers at Castle Auburn (2001) was my first exposure to Sharon Shinn's fantasies, and it was pretty much insta-love for me (I like to think that Shinn returns my affections in a distant and anonymous fan-appreciation kind of way). It instantly set me off on a search for more of her books.

Corie is the teenaged illegitimate daughter of a nobleman who died before the story begins, but the royal family is still keeping close tabs on her. Most of the time she lives with her grandmother in a remote village, learning medicinal herbs and a bit of witchery from her. But her summers are spent with the royal family in Castle Auburn.

We follow Corie over the next several years as she hangs out with her half-sister Elisandra; Bryan, the stunningly good-looking ― and kn... Read More

The Silence of the Girls: Powerful retelling of The Iliad from the female perspective

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Toward the end of Pat Barker’s newest novel, her main character Briseis thinks to herself:

“Yes, the death of young men in battle is a tragedy ... worthy of any number of laments — but theirs is not the worst fate. I looked at Andromache, who’d have to live the rest of her amputated life as a slave, and I thought: We need a new song.

The eloquently powerful The Silence of the Girls (2018) is Barker’s attempt to create just that, and she just about nails it.

Barker’s novel is a re-telling of Homer’s The Iliad, told mostly from the point of view of Briseis, the young girl taken by Achilles as a spoil of war and then later taken from him by Agamemnon as compensation for having to give up his own “prize” when her priest-father calls down the anger of Apollo on the Greek... Read More

Dust 8: Examines the wide varieties of human experience

Dust 8 by Osamu Tezuka

In Dust 8 by Osamu Tezuka, a plane wrecks on a strange island inhabited by peculiar beings. As the plane wrecks, it runs into part of a magical mountain, and bits of rock, or “dust,” land on ten people, bringing them back to life. Eight of these ten people leave the island and are rescued when they are found at sea. The other two stay on the island, and like the other eight, are alive only because they each have one piece of rock on them, as the mysterious creatures on the island explain. The creatures believe that the humans were fated to die, so they take back the rocks from the two survivors, who immediately collapse in death. The leader of the creatures sends off two others mysterious beings, who inhabit the two bodies of the recently perished humans, to retrieve the rocks, the eight pieces of “dust” from the eight survivors who have returned back to their everyday lives.

... Read More

Melody of Iron and Other Short Stories: A wonderful work by the “God of Manga”

Melody of Iron and Other Short Stories by Osamu Tezuka

Osamu Tezuka’s Melody of Iron and Other Short Stories is a wonderful work by the “God of Manga.” It is has been translated beautifully by Adam Seacord and is published by Digital Manga, Inc., a publisher that is doing an excellent job of putting out in translation many of Tezuka’s works that are completely unknown in the United States. This work is one of Tezuka’s mature collections from late in his career. The original collection is from 1974 (Tezuka died in 1989), and this first edition in English came out recently in 2017.

“Melody of Iron,” the first of three stories in the volume, is the main one in terms of length and weighty subject matter. In it, a young man from the U.S. whose family is a part of the mafia in New York, marries a young Japanese woman. The Albini family, at first resistant to havin... Read More

The Black Druid: Part 2 of a classic collection

The Black Druid by Frank Belknap Long

In my recent review of Frank Belknap Long’s short-story collection The Hounds of Tindalos, I mentioned that when this hardcover volume was initially released by Arkham House in 1946, it contained 21 tales, encompassing the genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror. I also mentioned that most later reprintings of this now classic collection contained only half of those 21 stories, including the 1975 edition that I recently wrote about; the one from the British publishing firm Panther. But later that same year, Panther released the other half of the 1946 classic in a collection entitled The Black Druid, a paperback that I eagerly sought out after enjoying Part 1 so very much. As wo... Read More

SAGA Volume 1: A brilliant series

SAGA Volume One, Issues 1-6 by Brian K. Vaughan (author) & Fiona Staples (illustrator)

Brian K. Vaughan's brilliant new series SAGA is a mixture of fantasy and science fiction, with wonderfully humorous and realistic dialogue between a newlywed couple. But the subject being addressed (and critiqued) is war. It's also incredibly sexually explicit, so I must give my warning to those who either prefer not to have in their heads images of people with television heads having sex or want to keep such images from their kids. (Personally, I find it funny to watch one of the television head characters, a powerful and vicious military official and member of the royalty, struggle with impotence when out of his official attire.)

The premise of the story is that a couple and their new-born child, Hazel, are on the run from just about everybody involved in the war. When issue one begins, the war has been going on for many ... Read More

Voyage of the Dogs: A book for dog lovers of all ages

Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout

Voyage of the Dogs (2018) by Greg van Eekhout is a middle-grade science fiction book. Young readers will certainly enjoy this action-packed book with dog main characters. Adult dog lovers can enjoy it too.

Lopside is part of a team of “Barkonauts,” specially trained uplifted dogs who are part of the first interstellar space voyage. The Laika is aimed at a planet nicknamed Stepping Stone. Along with the human crew, embryos of cattle and sheep, and fertilized chicken eggs, four dogs comprise the manifest of the ship. As he fulfills his other duties, Lopside searches the starship every day for rats, because he is part terrier. He never finds any, but he is diligent. Lopside feels a little uncomfortable among the other three dogs, all of whom are purebreds. Bug is ... Read More

Blackfish City: The cyberpunk novel I didn’t know I was missing

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller 

“People would say she came to Qaanaaq in a skiff towed by a killer whale harnessed to the front like a horse. In these stories, which grew astonishingly elaborate in the days and weeks after her arrival, the polar bear paced beside her on flat bloody deck of the boat. Her face was clenched and angry…”

Blackfish City (2018) is the cyberpunk book I’ve been wanting to read for a while now, without really knowing it. With a strange and wonderful setting, augmented humans, powerful AIs, catastrophically tilted wealth-and-power dynamics, an “information disease,” crazy-wild urban sports and vivid visuals, Sam J. Miller’s novel picks up the old baton of William Gibson and carries it into some twisty, complex post-diluvial territory.

Qaanaaq... Read More

The Hounds of Tindalos: Part one of a classic collection

The Hounds of Tindalos by Frank Belknap Long

In my recent review of C. L. Moore’s Northwest Smith, I mentioned in passing that the author was a member of what has come to be known as the “Lovecraft Circle” — a group of authors who not only regularly corresponded with the “Sage of Providence,” but who were encouraged by Lovecraft himself to write to one another and critique their fellows’ work. Other writers in this loose-knit fraternity included Henry Kuttner (Moore’s future husband and collaborator), Robert E. Howard, Read More