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The Rim of the Morning: Great old school cosmic horror

The Rim of the Morning: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror by William Sloane

New York Review Books Classics has just packaged two novels by renowned author, editor and teacher William Sloane into a single offering, The Rim of the Morning: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror. Sloane is not an author I’d previously known, probably due to the fact that these stories are two of only three novels that he ever published. Stephen King contributes a short but impeccable introduction, providing a tight analysis of the stories and windows into Sloane’s background and style. Sloane wrote and edited primarily supernatural mystery/scifi, but is known in literary worlds as a writing teacher.

The first of these novels, To Walk the Night, is a Lovecraftian tale of the investigation into an a... Read More

Clockwork: Bad things happen when you don’t finish a story

Clockwork: or All Wound Up by Philip Pullman

Clockwork: or All Wound Up (1996) is a very short (about 100 pages) children’s fairytale by Philip Pullman. It stars Karl and Fritz, two young Germans who have not finished a job that they were supposed to do and are worried about what will happen when the townspeople find out. Karl and Fritz meet one snowy evening in the local tavern. Karl, the clockmaker’s apprentice, is brooding because tomorrow is the day when he must unveil the mechanical project he’s supposed to have finished. For hundreds of years, each apprentice has contributed an exquisite clockwork figure to the town’s clock and everyone gathers on graduation day to admire it in the town square. Karl confesses to Fritz that he has not created anything.

Fritz, a writer, tells Karl that authors also ha... Read More

Battlemage: One of my favourites this year. Best read while listening to heavy metal.

Battlemage by Stephen Aryan

Not too long ago, as I pondered which book to read next, it came to me on a whim that I was craving an epic fantasy novel where wars were battled with not only bow and sword, but with devastating magic. Granted, it’s a simple wish. I wasn’t looking for a deep exploration of human relationships or an allegory about the state of our current world. I just wanted to read about some big-ass battles fought with dazzling magic. I went to Amazon to search for that hypothetical book and the first search word that popped into my mind was “battlemage.” Lo and behold, right there as the first result of my query, was Stephen Aryan’s debut, aptly named, Battlemage. I read its description and it felt as if all my prayers had been answered. I clicked the pre-order button.

The premise of Battlemage is simple. War is coming to Seveldrom as a mad king has risen... Read More

Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things

Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things by M.R. O’Connor

We’ve seen a number of books lately dealing with what has been called the “sixth extinction,” referring to the ongoing mass extinction event, and ways in which we might deal with the crisis. Elizabeth Kolbert’s forthrightly named The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History and Beth Shapiro’s How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-extinction are two excellent examples of such titles (I’d also include, though not quite as directly related, Michael Tennesen’s The Next Species). Now you can add Resurre... Read More

Robot Dreams: 21 stories by Asimov

Robot Dreams by Isaac Asimov

Every time I see a short story collection by Isaac Asimov in audio format, I pick it up because I love his short stories more than I love his novels. Last year Recorded Books released Robot Dreams, which was originally published in print form in 1986. The audiobook is 14.5 hours long and narrated by the wonderful George Guidall.

Robot Dreams contains these 21 excellent stories. All but the titular story were originally published in periodicals (noted here):

“Little Lost Robot” — (originally published in Astounding Science Fiction, 1947) When a human tells the robot named Nestor to “get lost,” he does, by hiding himself in a room full of identical robots. This is a problem for Dr. Susan Calvin and the other scientists because N... Read More

Grasshopper Jungle: Gross and awesome

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Grasshopper Jungle is a weird book in many ways. Not only is it literally weird (it is a book about a giant 6-foot praying mantis invasion, genetically modified testicle-dissolving corn, a secret underground bunker for humanity to reproduce itself in and a dog that’s lost its bark), but it is also literaryily weird. That is, it’s hard to define. The marketing team must’ve realised that too, because it has been toted as appealing to fans of John Green, Stephen King and Michael Grant. It doesn’t really narrow down what readers ought to expect from the novel, but what transpired was one of the most moving, gross and groundbreaking books in YA today.

Austin, our protagonist, is as sexually confused as the novel is ge... Read More

The Cute Girl Network by Greg Means and MK Read

The Cute Girl Network by Greg Means and MK Read

The Cute Girl Network by Greg Means and MK Read is a text-book example of the old don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover warning. And in this case, I’d say it also serves as an additional warning not to judge a book by its title. I’m not sure how well this book sold in 2013, but however it did, I’m sure it missed its target audience because of the title and cover. I hope First Second, one of my favorite publishers, will re-release this book with a new title and new cover. It deserves republication and another chance as a newly marketed book.

I really like The Cute Girl Network, and I was surprised because I t... Read More

Clover Honey by Rich Tommaso

Clover Honey by Rich Tommaso

Clover Honey by Rich Tommaso is a re-release of his first graphic novel, originally published in 1995, when Tommaso was twenty-three-year-old. I’ve never read anything quite like it. It’s a quick read — I think it took me all of forty-five minutes to read it — but I think it’s going to stay with me for some time to come. And I’m sure I’ll return to it. My initial impression is four stars, but I think with time I’d be willing to go higher. I suspect that the more time I spend with the book and thinking about it, the more it will grow on me.

Clover Honey is a black-and-white slice-of-life story that deals with the ... Read More

Touch: A nearly perfect thriller

Touch by Claire North

Touch, by Claire North, took me completely by surprise. I’d never heard of Claire North. (Yes, I know. More about that later.) I hadn’t seen much pre-release buzz about the book. I don’t think I’d ever read a book from (Hachette imprint) Redhook before. I frankly thought the blurb sounded a bit too standard-horror-ish, but I picked it up anyway to try a few pages and see if it could draw me in.

Am I ever glad I did. Touch is a gloriously dark and almost perfectly executed novel. (More about that “almost” later, too.) It’s so good that I set out to get the author’s first novel, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, even before I finished Touch, and then read it before I got around to wr... Read More

Now Wait for Last Year: A virtual compendium of Dick’s pet themes

Now Wait for Last Year by Philip K. Dick

A virtual compendium of many of Philip K. Dick's pet themes, tropes and obsessions, Now Wait for Last Year, the author's 17th published sci-fi novel, originally appeared as a Doubleday hardcover in 1966. (As revealed in Lawrence Sutin's biography on Dick, the novel was actually written as early as 1963 and rewritten two years later.) Phil was on some kind of a roll at this point in his career, having recently come out with the masterpieces The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and Dr. Bloodmoney, and Now Wait for Last Year is still another great one for this important writer.

In it, the Earth of the year 2055 is in big trouble, fighting a protracted, losing war with the 6-f... Read More

Court of Fives: The dangers of imperialism, racism, and ambition

Court of Fives by Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott has a well-deserved reputation for writing excellent science-fiction and fantasy for adults. Her characters, world-building, and societies are not only entertaining but well-crafted. It seems only natural that, at some point in her career, she would try her hand at Young Adult fiction. The result is Court of Fives, the first in a planned fantasy trilogy which is sure to appeal to younger readers as well as Elliott’s established fan base. While I’ve seen the novel described as “YA meets Game of Thrones,” Elliott herself has said, “I prefer Little Women meets American Ninja Warrior,” which is far more relevant to my personal interests (and a more unique combination).

A quick note for readers who may not be aware: A... Read More

EDGE: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

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.

When a clockwork octopus is your favourite character in a book, you know you’re onto a winner. Katsu (said octopus) is the creation of Keita Mori, the enigmatic watchmaker around whom events of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street centre. Natasha Pulley’s debut is as intricate as the clockwork it describes, and the plot runs just as smoothly.

Thaniel Steepleton has spent the last four years in the soul-destroyingly dull position of a telegraphist f... Read More

Horrible Monday: The Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy

The Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy

What’s more frightening: a monster lurking in the shadows, kidnapping children for its dark and nefarious purposes — or a human being who does the same, terrible thing? Are there really supernatural creatures lurking at the edge of human existence, or do we just tell ourselves stories to gloss over how awful our species can be? Even worse, what if both scenarios are true? Alexandra Sirowy explores these questions in her Young Adult debut novel, The Creeping, and I would guess that what readers think about her answers will tell you a lot about themselves and the things they fear.

When Jeanie Talcott and Stella Cambren were six years old, they went into the forest surrounding their sleepy Minnesota town to pick strawberries. Only Stella came out, wild-eyed and rambling about monsters in the woods, covered in Jeanie’s blood. Jeanie’s body was never fo... Read More

Half a War: Memorable grimdark saturated with Abercrombiean plot twists

Half a War by Joe Abercrombie

Warning: Will contain mild spoilers for Half a King and Half a World

One of the worst aspects of Joe Abercrombie’s Half a War, book three of his SHATTERED SEA trilogy, is the cover art — a depiction of assorted medieval weaponry formed by tongues of flame lapping at the darkness. Needless to say, the cover art is pretty freakin’ awesome, so Abercrombie must have put an extraordinary amount of work into the substance of Half a War to make it even better than the attention-grabbing visual that serves as its housing. With the return of Brand, Thorn, Yarvi, and the cast from books one and two, the conclusion to Abercrombie’s YA series picks up with the painstaking combat against the Hi... Read More

Bell Weather: Genre-bending adventure novel where the language is the star

Bell Weather by Dennis Mahoney

I had never heard of Dennis Mahoney before picking up Bell Weather, but the bright green ARC cover drew me in: a monochrome print of a woman framed by trees. A hummingbird with bat-wings flies overhead. And over this, in bold white letters, “Enter the world of Root.” Well, with an invitation like that, don’t mind if I do.

Bell Weather is an adventure story following a young woman named Molly Bell as she escapes from two dangerous men bent on controlling her. Molly is a fantastic heroine, kinetic and indomitable. She is described as a “quicksummer spirit.” Associated with images of flowers and flame, she embodies warmth and tenacity, clinging to life through trials that would have killed a weaker person. Near the end of the novel, her brother Nicholas describes her: “It is a quality of yours: a marvelous facility to wrigg... Read More

Savages: A solid new novel by K.J. Parker

Savages by K.J. Parker

A pacifist who inherits his father's failing arms business, a general who wins all of his battles and sets in motion the fate of empires because of decisions he makes in the last second before a battle commences, a tribesman who loses his family and survives an attempt at his life to become, well, every single thing he chooses to be. Those and many other memorable characters populate K.J. Parker's newest standalone novel, Savages, a solid offering that is sure to please readers of the author's previous works.

There's a war between two nations, as there usually is, and the losing nation has managed to get a hold of a brilliant strategist by the name of Calojan, whose name means little dog in his home nation and whose father was a famous artist of pornographic paintings featuring his wife... Read More

The New Adam: Of mice and mentation

The New Adam by Stanley G. Weinbaum

Stanley G. Weinbaum was one of the great “what if…” authors in sci-fi history. Perhaps no other writer before or since has been so influential, and shown so much early promise, only to have that budding career cut tragically short. The Kentucky-born author caused a sensation when his very first tale, “A Martian Odyssey,” appeared in the July 1934 issue of Wonder Stories, and its ostrichlike central alien, the unforgettable Tweel, was a true original of its kind. In a flurry of activity, Weinbaum went on to create some two dozen more short stories, plus three novels, before succumbing to lung cancer in December ’35, at the age of 33. (Robert Bloch, a friend of Weinbaum’s, has since written that he actually died of throat cancer; don’t ask me.) It had been many years since I’d read the classic Ba... Read More

The Secret Life of Wonder Woman: Weirder than I ever could have imagined

The Secret Life of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

Jill Lepore has reissued The Secret Life of Wonder Woman, her fascinating non-fiction look at the creator of Wonder Woman, with a revised Afterword that includes information from some new sources. The book is part scholarly work, part Wonder Woman archive and part scandal sheet. Non-fiction is usually pretty slow going for me, but I couldn’t put this book down.

Wonder Woman first appeared in 1941, part of All-Star Comics, a subset of Detective Comics, which was later shortened to DC. In her time she was the third most popular superhero, up there with Superman and Batman. She was a feminist icon, a beacon of strength and hope for young girls. She was a cheerleader of the war effort, encouraging women to join the WAACS and WAVES. She was reviled by critics as anti-feminine, fascist and racist. Her creator, William Moulton Marston, was a femin... Read More

Starlight: The Return of Duke McQueen by Mark Millar and Goran Parlov

Starlight: The Return of Duke McQueen by Mark Millar and Goran Parlov

Without a doubt, Starlight: The Return of Duke McQueen is my favorite comic book by Mark Millar. Any fan of pulp science fiction will want to read this book. It is told well, is full of wonder, and is simply delightful. Starlight both invokes and honors older science fiction stories that have as their primary aim the hope of instilling astonishment in readers as they flip quickly through the pages to find out about the hero’s adventures in space. And in Starlight, we take joy in Duke McQueen’s tale, both devouring the pages and never wanting it to end.

The ma... Read More

The Rook: Super-powered chess

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

As Daniel O’Malley’s 2012 supernatural thriller The Rook (book one of THE CHECQUY FILES) begins, Myfanwy Thomas comes to herself with complete amnesia. She's standing in a London park at night. Surrounding her is a ring of motionless bodies. They are all wearing latex gloves.

Myfanwy (“rhymes with Tiffany”) finds two letters in her jacket pocket from her former self:
Dear You, The body you are wearing used to be mine… I’m writing this letter for you to read in the future.
Myfanwy’s former self was aware that in some way her brain was going to be magically wiped of all memories, and did her best to smooth the way for future memory-less Myfanwy by writing a number of letters to herself.
All you need to know immediately is that someone I should be able to trust has decided that I need to be removed. I don’t k... Read More

Tower of Glass: A towering achievement

Tower of Glass by Robert Silverberg

Released in 1970, Tower of Glass was Robert Silverberg's 42nd sci-fi novel ... his 18th since 1967 alone! The amazingly prolific author had embarked on a more mature phase of his writing career in '67, with an emphasis on ideas and a distinct literary quality, and Tower of Glass is yet another superior novel in this remarkable streak. Justifiably nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards (but "losing," respectively, to Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness and Larry Niven's Ringworld Read More

The Starmen of Llyrdis: A small but perfect gem from “The Queen of Space Opera”

The Starmen of Llyrdis by Leigh Brackett

For fans of sci-fi’s Golden Age, it has been a sort of literary guessing game to riddle out which stories were written by Henry Kuttner and which by his wife, C.L. Moore. And this has proved to be no easy task, as the two, as legend goes, were so in rapport that one could pick up in mid-paragraph where the other had left off. But for several reasons, no such difficulty could ever be presented by Golden Age stalwart Edmond “The World Wrecker” Hamilton and his wife, “The Queen of Space Opera,” Leigh Brackett. For one thing, their writing styles were so very different that they hardly ever collaborated. Hamilton, who I love, and who was 11 years older than Leigh, ... Read More

The Divine by Boaz Lavie, Asaf Hanuka, and Tomer Hanuka

The Divine by Boaz Lavie, Asaf Hanuka, and Tomer Hanuka

I have been eagerly anticipating The Divine, written by Boaz Lavie, primarily because of the art I’d glimpsed. Artists Asaf Hanuka and Tomer Hanuka have a unique style that made me want to read the book even though I had no idea what it was about. This new book put out by First Second, probably the best publisher of standalone graphic novels, takes a standard plot and makes it unique, not only because of the impressive art, but also because the creators turn a realistic tale into a mythical one.

The Divine is a fast-paced,... Read More

The Sleeper and the Spindle: Another treat from a favourite storyteller

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman's latest offering defies the conventions of your typical fairy tale not just in content but format as well. You won't be able to sit down and read this to your child in one sitting as despite the multiple illustrations, for the story is lengthy and the font small.

Perhaps then it's better described as a fairy tale for adults, though I've always shied away from putting age restrictions on these types of stories. Let's go with calling it an illustrated short story that will be highly enjoyed by people of all ages with an interest in dark and twisted fairy tales.

The Queen of a faraway land is about to be married, at least until the arrival of three dwarfs bringing her news of events in the neighbouring kingdom. A sleeping curse has been laid upon a fair princess, but rather than the spell remaining confined to the castle in which she slumbers, it ... Read More

The Years of Rice and Salt: What if the Black Plague killed the Europeans?

The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson

In The Years of Rice and Salt, Kim Stanley Robinson uses the Black Plague to remove the Europeans, leaving the Old World to the Chinese, Islam, and the many cultural groups that end up in India. The Chinese discover the Americas, their diseases spread through the Native American populations, and their armies plunder the Incans. The novel begins with the Plague, but its vignettes move from one period of history to the next until it reaches the end of the 20th century.

How do you write a novel about one set of characters that spans centuries? Robinson uses reincarnation to cast a set of souls in various times and places as he follows his alternate history. The characters can always be told by the first letter of their names. Bold, a soldier, eventually becomes... Read More