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Too Like the Lightning: An ambitious speculative novel

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Ada Palmer’s debut novel, Too Like the Lightning, is an absorbing, exhausting, and complicated work of science fiction literature. This is not the kind of book you can read in bits and pieces and quickly pick up the plot threads after watching a couple of nights of TV. Once you jump in, it’s best you stay focused, allow her world to wash over you and trust that Palmer’s taking you a worthwhile ride.

It’s the 25th century, the church wars are long over, and society is in relative balance. We’re reading the government-edited recounting of something of political, cultural, and pan-global significance. The narrative of Mycroft Canner is largely first-hand, but some elements are witnessed through trackers that allow him to see and hear events through a device attached to individuals. And some events Canner has asked others to retell on th... Read More

Career of Evil: J. K. Rowling casts a different kind of spell

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

Though they are a far cry from the HARRY POTTER series, J. K. Rowling’s CORMORAN STRIKE novels still possess the same storytelling magic. Rowling’s ability to capture an audience, to evoke a character so vivid they become real, triumphs in her crime series.

Sending a leg to the office of Coromoran Strike is surely the most conspicuous way to get the detective’s attention. Strike is famously an amputee himself, and when he realises the leg is accompanied by a note bearing the lyrics tattooed on his mother’s body, there can be no doubt that this is a personal attack. And the fact that the leg is addressed to his assistant Robin? The attack was meant to hit the detective where it hurts.

This is Strike’s most grisly and disturbing case to ... Read More

Eifelheim: Magnificent SF combining science, history, and historical fiction

Eifelheim by Michael Flynn

Eifelheim is one of those transcendent science fiction stories where an author is able to treat very human and Earth-bound issues with a well-reasoned and fascinating gloss of aliens and science. Author Michael Flynn's alien mythos and capabilities are believable and seamlessly integrated into the very real history of plague-era Germany.

I picked up Eifelheim because I love a good story of first contact. I find myself continually drawn to the classics in this science fiction genre, but also the classic tales of first contact of the very terrestrial kind: human exploration and discovery. Both Hernán Cortés and his first Aztec meetings as well as Pizarro and the Incas hold special fascination for me, as do much of that era’s tribal first contact with “civilizatio... Read More

Thursdays with the Crown: The magical Castle Glower, now with teleporting feature

Thursdays with the Crown by Jessica Day George

Thursdays with the Crown is the delightful concluding half of a two-part story begun in Wednesdays in the Tower, which is necessary to read first. Hence, this review will necessarily contain some spoilers for Wednesdays.

In this third installment in Jessica Day George’s middle grade CASTLE GLOWER series, Princess Celie, her brother Rolf, sister Lilah, and friends Pogue and Prince Lulath, have been magically transported by their capricious castle to an unfamiliar land where the castle was originally built, along with two towers of the castle and Celie’s griffin Rufus. After spending a cold night sleeping on the floor of one of the towers, the friends begin to explore the wild, forested land, t... Read More

Feersum Endjinn: An eclectic far-future science fantasy

Feersum Endjinn by Iain M. Banks

Sometimes a book has so many incredible elements that it defies easy summary. Compound that with the fact that it shares themes with some of your favorite genre classics, and that it is written by the incredibly-talented Iain M. Banks, and you have the recipe for a very unique reading experience. As I read the story, I was forcibly reminded of some classic books in the genre, particularly Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars, Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, Read More

Sandman (Vol. 6): Fables and Reflections by Neil Gaiman

Sandman (Vol. 6): Fables and Reflections by Neil Gaiman

Sandman: Fables and Reflections is a collection of nine separate stories that originally appeared in two separate groups plus an introductory short story and a lengthy Sandman Special about Orpheus and Eurydice. Basically, this collection is one of the most far-ranging and eclectic volumes available in the Sandman trade editions. The first grouping of stories about various emperors across time includes “Thermidor,” “August,” “Three Septembers and a January,” and “Ramadan” (Issues 29-31& 50). The second group of stories — originally issues 38-40 — includes “The Hunt... Read More

Mattimeo: Jacques perfects his formula

Mattimeo by Brian Jacques

Mattimeo is the third REDWALL novel written by Brian Jacques, and contains all of the elements which have come to define the series in the minds of fans: noble heroes, dastardly villains, young animals who mature into budding heroes, lengthy descriptions of food, mysterious riddles, and dual plots which see the residents of Redwall Abbey defending its red sandstone walls against invaders while the principal hero-characters journey far afield. Subsequent books do jump around quite a bit within the series’ chronology, but Mattimeo takes place “eight seasons” after the events of Redwall and features Matthias the Warrior Mouse, his wife Cornflower, and their son Mattimeo in prominent roles.

During their annual feast ce... Read More

Red Rising: An engaging debut

Reposting to include Marion's new review:

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

In Pierce Brown’s debut novel, Red Rising, humanity lives in a strictly hierarchical society, with the various castes marked by colors: Golds at the top, Reds at the bottom, Pinks for pleasure, Yellows for bureaucrats, etc. Darrow, a young Red, who mines beneath the surface of Mars for Helium-3, has always accepted the hierarchy as it has been drummed into him, until events cause him to see things differently. Eventually, he is set on a path whereby he will seek to undermine the Golds’ power and spark a revolution of Reds. If, that is, he can stay true to himself and his mission even as he infiltrates the Gold society. Because of the many twists in the novel, that pretty much all I’m going to say about plot.

Usually I like to start with the positives of a novel. But despite the fact that I... Read More

The Halfling and Other Stories: Eight marvelous tales from the “Queen of Space Opera”

The Halfling and Other Stories by Leigh Brackett

The Halfling and Other Stories gathers together eight tales, of varying lengths, that Leigh Brackett, the so-called “Queen of Space Opera,” wrote between the years 1943 and ’57. The collection initially appeared as an Ace paperback in ’73, but it was the second edition, released in ’83, that this reader was fortunate enough to lay his hands on. This is a generous collection of over 300 pages of Brackett’s work, and for the most part, the stories reveal Brackett at the very peak of her form.

The anthology, however, does not begin with its strongest selections. “The Halfling” itself, a novelette (7,500 - 17,500 words) that first appeared in the February ’43 issue of Astonishing Stories, is a minor but colorful tale that conflates both the wo... Read More

Railhead: Imaginative and entertaining from beginning to end

Railhead by Philip Reeve
If the idea of a heist aboard a sentient train traveling at faster-than-light speeds appeals to you; if said heist involves assumed identities, the theft of a very old and valuable artifact, and a criminal thumbing his nose at a family-run corporation/empire; if you like believable romance and honest-to-goodness fun, then Philip Reeve’s latest YA novel, Railhead, is for you. (If none of that appeals to you, read on anyway: I may be able to change your mind.)

In a galaxy filled with novelties like sentient trains who travel at faster-than-light speeds on specially crafted rails through K-gates stationed on nearly a thousand worlds and moons, Zen Starling is a light-fingered teen who lives with his mother and older sister Myka; their mother suffers from paranoid delusions, and every time her fears ... Read More

Every Heart a Doorway: An enchanting novella

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

It seems like there are many tales around today that strive to explain the ‘after’ in ‘happily ever after’, with varied results. Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway is one such story that had me riveted from the first. This novella appears to be the first in a plan for more stories in this world, and as an introduction it does an excellent job.

Every Heart a Doorway concerns the lives of those girls and boys (but mostly girls, as explained in the novella) who found passageways to other worlds and then came back again. These are your Alices and Dorothys, young people who found and were found by worlds that wanted them. Specifically, this novella concerns those children and teens who came back to our reality without necessarily wanting t... Read More

Sin City (Vol. 3): The Big Fat Kill by Frank Miller

Sin City (Vol. 3): The Big Fat Kill by Frank Miller

The Big Fat Kill is the third volume in Frank Miller’s SIN CITY series, featuring Dwight McCarthy, Marv, and the ladies of Old Town delivering justice with extreme prejudice to some very deserving goons. It’s another celebration of violent revenge against some pretty reprehensible people, so it goes down fairly easily. It’s also the most creative storyline of the first three volumes, and is featured as the middle segment of the first Sin City movie.

The story begins with four drunken men banging on the door of Shellie (Brittanie Murphy), one of the waitresses at Kadie’s Bar, which ... Read More

The Best of Planet Stories, #1: A marvelous collection from an underappreciated pulp magazine

The Best of Planet Stories, #1: edited by Leigh Brackett

Beginning in 1937 and continuing on for a good dozen years, the pulp magazine Astounding Science-Fiction, under the editorship of John W. Campbell, was the most dominant and influential publication in its field. But that is hardly to say that it didn't have competition for readers' attention (and their 20 cents) at the newsstands. Planet Stories, which published its first issue in 1939 and folded in '55 after 71 issues, was one such, but whereas Campbell's magazine specialized in seemingly realistic tales with an emphasis on technology and hard science, Planet Stories' main stock in trade was unabashed space opera; melodramatic adventure stories of lost civilizations, stalwart heroes, beautiful princesses and suchlike. Not for nothing does The Science Fiction Encyclopedia... Read More

Kingfisher: A Camelot-type court in the modern era

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review:

Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip

Knights dress in black and ride motorcycles, sorcerers and sorceresses run restaurants, and maybe your grandpa isn’t actually crazy. Such is the world in which Patricia A. McKillip’s Kingfisher takes place. Though it may begin with a deceivingly simple quest of a young man looking for his long-lost father, Kingfisher becomes much more than that very quickly. It ends up following the stories of four young people as they navigate their changing worlds and values as well as deftly interweaving their lives in surprisingly satisfying ways. I was leery (and a bit confused) at first, but Kingfisher delivers an enchanting tale of ancient-feeling magic in the modern day.
... Read More

Binti: Remarkable coming-of-age set in space

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

In Binti, published by Tor.com, Nnedi Okorafor tells the story of Binti, a brave adolescent girl who is the only person from her tribe, the Himba, to ever be invited to attend Oomza Uni, the most prestigious university in the galaxy. She is a harmonizer, a skilled creator of advanced technology, but despite her tribe’s affinity for technology and innovation, they rarely leave their tribal lands. Binti sets off on her journey to Oomza Uni, knowing that her departure likely means she will be a pariah to her family and friends. What’s more, because of the Himba tradition of covering skin and hair with otjize, or red earth, she knows that she’ll likely be an outsider in her new environment.

Her journey off the planet and across the galaxy is marvelous at first. She makes friends... Read More

The Coming of the Terrans: A wonderful collection from the “Queen of Space Opera”

The Coming of the Terrans by Leigh Brackett

Just recently, I reviewed The Best of Leigh Brackett, a big, 400+-page affair from Ballantine Books that was first released in 1977. But this collection was not the first to gather the older works of Leigh Brackett, the so-called “Queen of Space Opera” into a nice, compact collection. That honor, it seems, goes to the volume entitled The Coming of the Terrans, which was released by Ace in 1967. The Best of book was a deluxe affair, with a foreword by Brackett’s husband, Edmond Hamilton, an afterword by Brackett herself, fan maps of Brackett’s Mars, and 10 stories and n... Read More

The Last Witness: A fascinating study of memory

The Last Witness by K.J. Parker

The Last Witness is another of K.J. Parker’s novellas in which an unreliable first-person narrator tells us the story of his unfortunate life. This technique worked brilliantly in Blue and Gold, and it does so again here.

The Last Witness is about a man who, when he was a boy, realized that he had the magical ability to remove people’s memories from their brains. This is a useful skill. When he was young, our narrator used it to remove incriminating memories from those who might punish him or testify against him, but later he begins to earn a living by selling his services to others.

For example, someone might hire him to eliminate a particularly u... Read More

Fire Touched: An excellent installment in a fresh, inventive series

Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs

*Note: spoilers for earlier books in the series

Fire Touched, just published on March 8, 2016, is the ninth novel in Patricia BriggsMERCY THOMPSON urban fantasy series, and the series is still going strong. In fact, this is one of the stronger entries in the series.

Mercy is relaxing in her home with her husband Adam, the Alpha of the Columbia Basin werewolf pack. Of course there are all the small day-to-day annoyances: Adam’s ex-wife, a thorn in Mercy’s side, is still in town; the fae walking stick is still stubbornly following Mercy around; the other non-werewolf member of the pack, Joel the tibicena (sort of a brimstone demon Pressa Canario) is having trouble controlling his demon dog shape and shifting to human form for any appreciable a... Read More

The Best of Leigh Brackett: A wonderful collection from the “Queen of Space Opera”

The Best of Leigh Brackett by Leigh Brackett

Back in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, Ballantine Books had a wonderful thing going with its “Best of” anthology series: 21 generously packed books celebrating 21 of the most influential authors of science fiction’s Golden Age, all reasonably priced at $1.95 (I refer here to the paperback editions, all of which I managed to collect) and all featuring beautiful cover art and informative introductions by a distinguished sci-fi author or critic. I loved every one of the “Best of” collections back when (OK, I wasn’t overly fond of The Best of John W. Campbell), and found them all to be perfect introductions to the 21 writers involved. But of all those many volumes, one of my favorites of the bunch was The Best of Read More

Investigating Lois Lane: The Turbulent History of the Daily Planet’s Ace Reporter

Investigating Lois Lane by Tim Hanley

There’s something irresistibly appealing about Lois Lane, DC Comics’ globe-trotting and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter. In the hands of a good writer, she’s got grit and guts to spare, she’s smart enough to track down crime bosses or dissolve child-smuggling rings, and she’s tough enough to stand toe-to-toe with the likes of supervillains Lex Luthor and Braniac. In the hands of a bad writer — and there have been many — she’s a sex object, a romantic conquest, a pawn whose numerous meaningless deaths are nothing more than the catalyst for Superman’s emotional arcs. This is a character who, in the year 2011, was referred to as a “trophy wife” by a DC editor at San Diego Comic-Con. “Turbulent” isn’t a strong enough word for Lois Lane’s 77-year history, but it’s a good place to start.

Investigating Lois Lane’s ten chapters focus on one g... Read More

Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb

Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb

Batman: The Long Halloween (1997) takes place soon after Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One (1987) in chronology. Batman is still in his early days of crime-fighting, while Captain Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent are trying to combat corruption in the police force and courts. This book is a lengthy and gripping noir story that goes back to Batman’s roots as a detective, as he and Jim and Harvey all try to solve the mystery of the Holiday Killer, who has been striking both the Falcone and Maroni crime families on major holidays, always with the s... Read More

The Immortals: Far more than just PERCY JACKSON for adults

The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky

Should you happen to see the words “Percy Jackson” connected with Jordanna Max Brodsky’s debut novel, please do not mistake The Immortals for “kidlit” or YA fare. This is a thoroughly adult affair, with all manner of Greek gods and mortals behaving badly, and its story about the Goddess of the Hunt stalking a murderer through New York City is as bloody and thrilling as one could hope for.

Selene DiSilva lives in Manhattan, sleeping through each day and spending her nights either walking her rescue dog Hippolyta along the Hudson River or protecting women from abusive men. Long ago, Selene was known as Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt and the moon, but she and the other Athanatoi (“Those Who Do Not Die,” the Greek immortals of myth and legend) have fled Mount Olympus and seen their godhoods disappear over the last fifteen hundred yea... Read More

The Reavers of Skaith: A sweeping finale to a wonder-filled trilogy

The Reavers of Skaith by Leigh Brackett

First released in 1976, The Reavers of Skaith serves as both the wonderful finale of author Leigh Brackett’s SKAITH TRILOGY AND a fitting coda to her 36-year career. Reavers, as it turned out, would be Brackett’s final piece of published fiction before her death, at age 62, in 1978. Of course, the so-called “Queen of Space Opera” was not completely idle during her final years — she kept busy by writing the initial draft for a little picture to be later known as The Empire Strikes Back — but Reavers would serve as the finale of her wonderful authorial career. Fortunately, Brackett went out with a bang, and fans of the first two books in this particular trilogy — The Ginger Star Read More

Ancillary Justice: Doesn’t read like a first novel at all

Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Breq used to be a spaceship, or at least a fragment of the spaceship known as Justice of Toren. The ship controlled innumerable human bodies, known variously as “ancillaries” to the people of the interstellar Radchaai Empire and as “corpse soldiers” to the cultures and planets the Empire has conquered. Those soldiers used to be regular, innocent human beings who, if sufficiently healthy, were slaved to one of the Radchaai ships, their personalities more or less overwritten to become part of one of the Empire’s many-bodied artificial intelligences.

But note: Breq “used” to be a spaceship. Now, she is just Breq, a single person with one body, but with memories of being both an immensely powerful artificial intelligence and its army of soldiers. When we meet Breq, at the start of Ancillary Justice, the spectacula... Read More

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

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-provoking. I’ve read a lot of academic discussion of the book, but my a... Read More