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The Affirmation: Literary science fiction does not get much better

The Affirmation by Christopher Priest

I’ve heard Christopher Priest’s 1981 novel The Affirmation described as regressive, an ouroboros eating its own tail, a Moeibus strip. While there is undoubtedly an M.C. Escher quality to the book — a blurring of reality — the beginning and end are simply too different to form a contiguous whole reverting back on itself. They’re opposite ends of a spectrum in fact, and the appeal of the novel is immersing one’s self in the subjective reality Priest slowly unwraps and getting lost in the world of memories as a result.

The true nature of The Affirmation requires thought; the easy part is relaxing throughout the journey. Priest patiently and precisely lays down the text — words like railroad ties on a Sunday train ride to the country — the story moving effortlessly along. The sublime prose lulls the reader into the deceivingly mu... Read More

The Tricksters: A supernatural puzzle-box inside a New Zealand family drama

The Tricksters by Margaret Mahy

Margaret Mahy was one of New Zealand's most seminal writers, and one of only a few authors to twice-win the Carnegie Medal — first for The Haunting and then for The Changeover. As good as these books are, my personal favourite is The Tricksters, written for a slightly older audience and filled with her trademark New Zealand scenery, supernatural occurrences, family dramas and the awakening of a young person to adulthood. Older readers shouldn't be put off by the claims that this is a "young adult" novel, as any intelligent reader over the age of thirteen will enjoy what is perhaps Mahy's best work.

The Hamilton family gather at their beach house at Carnival's Hide to celebrate Christ... Read More

Excession: Does anyone do far future better than Banks?

Excession by Iain M. Banks

Let’s skip the highty-flighty, atmospheric float of intros and get right to the point. Iain M. Banks’ 1996 Excession is gosh-wow, sense-wunda science fiction that pushes the limits of the genre as far into the imagination — and future — as any book has. The AI ship-minds, post-human world-is-your-oyster humanity, and incredible roster of engine speeds, galaxies, drones, weaponry, biological possibilities, planets, orbitals, etc., etc. of previous books have been topped. Banks took a look at the savory milieu of the Culture, cocked his head and asked: “How can I up the ante?” The titular ‘excession’ is the answer.

Arthur C. Clarke’s brilliant Rendezvous with Rama sees humanity attempting to quantify and understand a BDO (big dumb object) that comes sailing th... Read More

SubCulture Omnibus by Kevin Freeman and Stan Yan

SubCulture Omnibus by Kevin Freeman (writer) and Stan Yan (artist)

I love to read, but for the life of me, I can’t stay up reading all night. Or at least, that’s usually the case. However, last night I had one of those rare occasions because I made the mistake of starting to read the SubCulture Omnibus by Kevin Freeman and Stan Yan. The subculture in this book is geek- or fanboy-culture. The geek/fanboy group in this comic consists of mostly young adults who have met through, and hang out at, the local comic shop: Kingdom Comix.

Freeman’s SubCulture is a black-and-white, episodic story that I just could not stop reading, even when I got past the four... Read More

Locke and Key: Crown of Shadows by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Locke and Key (Vol 3): Crown of Shadows by Joe Hill (writer) and Gabriel Rodriguez (artist)

Toil and trouble; the cauldron begins to bubble.

(May contain spoilers of earlier volumes.)

In Crown of Shadows, the third volume in Locke and Key, written by Joe Hill and drawn by Gabriel Rodriguez, the simmering sense of doom we encountered in Volume Two comes to a boil. More keys are found. More truths are revealed to the reader, and where truths are not uncovered, clues are dropped. Choices the characters made earlier in the narrative begin to have consequences.

Because he has the Anywhere Key, Luke Caravaggio, the thing that was rel... Read More

The Portent: Duende by Peter Bergting

The Portent: Duende by Peter Bergting

It seems as if every month when I go into the comic shop, I discover a new science fiction, fantasy, or horror title. These genres are getting better and better treatment in comic books. They are done so well and there are so many of them that you could happily spend your time reading only SFF and horror comics and have no time left over for novels in those genres. Just last night I read an excellent fantasy title: The Portent: Duende by Peter Bergting.

It has some of the best art I’ve ever seen. In fact, the art is so good, the one person I mentioned it to today looked it up online and purchased it immediately after... Read More

The Slow Regard of Silent Things: Suggests rather than reveals

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

After I read Patrick Rothfuss's novella, The Slow Regard of Silent Things, I spent some time leisurely cleaning my house, enjoying putting things "just so." Reading it put me in a meditative mood, the mood to organize my life and, in doing so, organize my mind.

This KINGKILLER CHRONICLES story follows Auri, the blonde urchin who befriends Kvothe in The Name of the Wind. Readers get to experience a week of Auri's life in the Underthing, the maze of tunnels and ruins that run under the University. During this time, she forages for food, uncovers hidden objects, and prepares for the arrival, in seven days' time, of a guest — unnamed, but suggested to be Kvothe.

In addition to reading the manuscript, I listened to Rothfuss’s narration. It was lovely to hear this in his own voice; I have spent so... Read More

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow (author) and Jen Wang (artist)

Though Cory Doctorow's In Real Life is a fictional story about a teenager introduced to the world of online multiplayer role-playing games, it's also about ethical issues involving the internet and labor. These ethical issues are not the usual ones we expect when discussing ethics and the internet: In Real Life mentions the obvious concerns we all have about online predators, but it focuses on the way the internet has the potential to be a force for good in terms of activism, as Doctorow explains in his insightful introductory essay.

Doctorow talks about how the internet allow... Read More

The Second Trip: A trip worth taking

The Second Trip by Robert Silverberg

In his 1969 novel To Live Again, Robert Silverberg posited a world of the near future in which it is possible for the very rich to have their personae recorded and preserved, and later placed in the mind of a willing recipient after their own demise, as a means of surviving the death of the body and sharing their consciousness with another. It is a fascinating premise and a terrific book, and thus this reader was a tad apprehensive at the beginning of Silverberg's similarly themed novel The Second Trip. Would Silverberg merely repeat himself here, to diminished effect, and offer his audience a mere rehash of an earlier great work? As it turns out, I needn't have been concerned. Silverberg, sci-fi great that he is — especially during this, his remarkable second phase of writing, ... Read More

Empire of Dreams: An excellent sampler of Ian McDonald’s work

Empire Dreams by Ian McDonald

Over the past few months I’ve read seven novels by Ian McDonald and have appreciated his thoughtful and beautifully written stories. I admired all of them, even those that I didn’t particularly like. McDonald’s stories are unique, many have exotic settings you can get immersed in, and most have fascinating science fiction ideas while also portraying poignant human struggles.

Empire Dreams (1988) is a sampler of ten of McDonald’s short stories and novelettes that offer fans and new readers a few glimpses of the author’s brilliance and versatility. The first five were originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine and the rest are original to this volume:

“Empire Dreams (Ground Control to Major Tom)” — (Originally printed in Asimov’s, December 1985) This novelette is about a new medical technology that... Read More

Defenders: Deceptively deep

Defenders by Will McIntosh

Last year, Will McIntosh’s social science novel Love Minus Eighty took many genre readers by surprise with its exploration of human feelings. McIntosh changed things up this time around with Defenders, a novel about an alien invasion of Earth.

An alien race known as the Luyten have invaded Earth, wreaking havoc throughout the planet with their heat guns, melting people, cars, and buildings alike. The Luyten have a distinct and incredible advantage over humanity — they’re telepathic. They can read minds. How unfair is that? Turns out it’s extremely unfair, and humanity is on the brink of destruction; thousands are dying whenever a group of Luyten — often called “Starfish” by the protagonists — attack. Nothing Earth’s generals can come up with works because the Starfish... Read More

The Man in the High Castle: A triumph of speculative literature

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

He wasn’t the first to create a work of alternate history, but Philip K. Dick’s 1962 The Man in the High Castle is amongst the very best offerings of the sub-genre, and it is relevant to an ever-globalizing world. A thought experiment rather than a traditional novel, the book explores the idea: what if the allied powers lost WWII? What would a world ruled by Nazi Germany and Japan be like?

The year is roughly 1960 and America has been divided into three parts: a Japanese controlled west coast, an American interior, and a German east coast. The US as we know it could not be more altered culturally. In the Pacific Coast State, white Americans are second class to the Japanese, and the Chinese are considered even lower. Yi Jing, or, the Book of Changes is the ruling belief system and plays a prominent role in the lives of most of... Read More

Horrible Monday: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

South African writer Lauren Beukes had a hit with last year’s The Shining Girls, the story of a serial killer who could travel through time. Readers of both time travel novels and serial killer thrillers loved the way Beukes melded the two genres. Beukes has again given us a genre-bender with Broken Monsters. Both a horror novel and a police procedural, Broken Monsters is even better than The Shining Girls.

Broken Monsters is set in Detroit — today’s Detroit, bankrupt yet defiant, down on its luck but searching luck out wherever it can be found. The arts community seems to be especially thriving in this down-at-the-heels city, and it is a desire to make art that is the foundation of all the problems that are visited upon the victims of an especially perverse serial killer. The first body fo... Read More

Bitter Greens: Gorgeous historical novel blended with fairytale

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth is a marvelous re-telling of Rapunzel, woven together with historical fiction that gives the reader a glimpse into the life of Charlotte Rose de Caumont de La Force, the French noblewoman who first published the fairy tale. Forsyth, pursuing her doctorate in fairy-tale retellings in Sydney, originally published in this novel in her native Australia. It has just been released in the US.

Bitter Greens begins with the story of Charlotte, exiled from the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King, and locked in a nunnery. Through her narrative, we learn that she was a vivacious courtier whose passion and wit would not be contained. Early in the novel, her mother tells the young Charlotte that she could have been a troubadour; instead, as an adult, she has left scandal in her wake and written some saucy stories that h... Read More

A Monster Calls: A deeply moving tale about the reality of death

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Conor O’Malley is a thirteen-year-old boy living in modern England. Conor is haunted on a nightly basis by a terrible nightmare in which he wakes up bathed in sweat, shaking with fear. A night comes where he has a different nightmare, and a yew tree in his yard comes alive, calling his name. Conor is actually relieved that the terrifying nightmare has been replaced, but he’s also annoyed that this not-so-scary monster is just that —not scary. The monster wants to tell Conor three stories, with a fourth that Conor tells, which the monster dubs “the truth”.

Conor’s mother is dying of cancer, and his world is turned upside down with change. As a result, he gets unwanted attention at school, whether it comes in the form of comfort from teachers or from bullying by kids who are too young to know better.

A Monster Calls Read More

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