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Origin Story: A Big History of Everything

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Origin Story: A Big History of Everything by David Christian

In Origin Story: A Big History of Everything (2018), David Christian ably does what I would have guessed was nigh on impossible — cover 13+ billion years of history from the Big Bang to current times (and actually further since he takes a quick look in the future as well). It’s a smoothly told, incredibly efficient history that mostly lives up to its subtitle.

At the core of Christian’s “Big History” is an ever-increasing complexity: “in special and unusual environments such as our planet ... in these Goldilocks environments, increasing complex things have appeared over many billions” (he is quick to note that “more complex” is not synonymous with “better”). Often, he says, complexity took big leaps forward at various transition points, which he labels “thresholds” and around w... Read More

Guardian: Get up, stand up — don’t give up the fight

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Guardian by A.J. Hartley

With Guardian (2018), A.J. Hartley brings his STEEPLEJACK trilogy to a triumphant close. Readers who savored the voyeuristic thrill of soaring along rooftops and bringing evildoers to justice alongside Anglet Sutonga in Steeplejack and Firebrand are sure to cheer as she tackles an even more daunting task: gathering allies both near and far to protect the city she calls home. The STEEPLEJACK books (and reviews of said books) need to be read in order, but I’ll try to keep unavoidable spoilers to a bare minimum.

As if Read More

Deadhouse Landing: Meet the New Guard. Same as the Old Guard.

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Deadhouse Landing by Ian Cameron Esslemont

Because it occurs not that far along into Deadhouse Landing (2017), I don’t feel bad about revealing that at one point our erstwhile heroes Wu and Dancer are forced into confronting one of the most dire threats of the Malazan Universe — being taken by an Azath. A revelation that I’m sure will have many of you wondering which of the many great powers of that universe could have driven them onto those perilous grounds: K’rul? T’riss? Kallor, a Matron, Icarium? Worthy candidates all, but none powerful enough. Because it turns out each pales beside the unstoppable, the irresistible puissance of ... the double-dare.
“G’wan,” the lad called, “we double-dare you.”

 

Wu looked at the overcast sky in exasperation. “Fine.” He stepped out among the dead knee-high grasses a... Read More

Semiosis: Oh, give me a home where the fippokats roam…

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Semiosis by Sue Burke

Semiosis, Sue Burke’s 2018 debut novel, is a fascinating examination of culture, intelligence, and co-operation in the face of extreme hardship. A small group of high-minded and free-thinking colonists have left Earth for a planet they’ve named Pax, in honor of their Utopic dream of what the planet represents, though they quickly discover that peace is not easily achieved — especially when they discover that you can never go home again, but neither can you completely leave it behind.

Pax has breathable air and potable water, a higher gravity than Earth, and a terrifying menagerie of plants and animals offering constant reminders that expectations about how things will work can be deadly. One of the biggest stumbling blocks for the new residents of Pax, something they butt their heads against time and time again, is their assumed sense ... Read More

American Gods: Mixed opinions

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is a bad land for Gods... The old gods are ignored. The new gods are as quickly taken up as they are abandoned, cast aside for the next big thing. Either you've been forgotten, or you're scared you're going to be rendered obsolete, or maybe you're just getting tired of existing on the whims of people.

Shadow, just out of prison and with nothing to go home to, is hired to be Mr. Wednesday's bodyguard as he travels around America to warn all the other incarnations of gods, legends, and myths, that “a storm is coming.” There's going to be a battle between the old gods who were brought to melting pot America by their faithful followers generations ago, and the new gods of technology, convenience, and individuality.

That's the premise of Read More

The Brethren: Another doozy from H. Rider Haggard

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The Brethren by H. Rider Haggard

In January 1900, British author H. Rider Haggard and his family ventured forth on a nice long vacation. As revealed in D.S. Higgins’ 1981 biography, the first part of this holiday was beset by bad weather, sickness and delays, as the Haggards made their way from London and on to Italy and Cyprus. But once the family reached the Holy Land, apparently, conditions improved significantly, and the world-famous author was so taken by the many historic sights that he saw there that the experience inspired him to write no fewer than three books: A Winter Pilgrimage (1901), a nonfiction travelogue of his journey; Pearl-Maiden (1903), which dealt with the fall of Jerusalem following the crucifixion of Christ; and the novel in question, ... Read More

Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution

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Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution by Menno Schilthuizen

At the close of his exploration of the somewhat oxymoronic “urban nature,” Menno Schilthuizen tells us that one of his aims is that “the urban organisms you see on your daily wanderings of the city streets will  become more special, more interesting, worthy of more than a casual glance.” Schilthuizen, I’d say, is more likely to succeed than not in achieving his goal, as Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution (2018) is a delightfully informative whose insights are enthusiastically and clearly conveyed.

Schilthuizen loses no time in introducing us to a different way of viewing our noisome, concrete and metal cityscapes, opening up with a description of how:
the inner city, for all its hustle and bustle and thoroughly unnatural ap... Read More

Buried Heart: Forced to pick a side

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Buried Heart by Kate Elliott

In Night Flower, Kiya and Esladas met and fell in love, beginning a journey that would, eventually, shake the city of Saryenia to its very foundation. In Court of Fives, their daughter Jessamy got her heart’s desire, the chance to train as a Court of Fives runner, at the cost of her family’s safety. In Poisoned Blade, Jes did everything she could to reunite her loved ones while rooting out royal corruption, but it wasn’t enough. In Bright Thrones, Jes’ twin Bettany put her depthless anger... Read More

Edgedancer: Snappy and surefooted

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Edgedancer
 by Brandon Sanderson

I've always been a sucker for an enfant terrible. The Peter Pans and Pippi Longstockings of the literary world would be hugely annoying if they actually showed up in the real world, of course, but in fiction it's a fun archetype. Brandon Sanderson's Edgedancer (2017) is all about such a character, and so consequently I had a great deal of fun with it. Readers with a lower tolerance for goofball ragamuffins might have a different experience (as per his usual, Sanderson is not content to merely toy with a trope, but totally commits), but I think that for most, this will be a charming read.

Edgedancer is a sidestory in the broader ... Read More

Armistice: Plots and plans

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Armistice by Lara Elena Donnelly

Lara Elena Donnelly continues THE AMBERLOUGH DOSSIER with Armistice (2018), a worthy sequel to her Nebula- and Lambda-nominated novel Amberlough. Three years have passed since the fascist Ospies took over Amberlough City and its surrounding lands, bringing tremendous change and hardship to the lives of the people who oppose them. If you haven’t yet read Amberlough, I strongly suggest doing so before reading any reviews of Armistice, to avoid even minor spoilers for this brilliant, twisty series.

Cordelia Lehane, hip-deep in a resistance movement cleverly named “the Catwal... Read More

Lady Killer: Very funny, dark, hard to stop reading

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Lady Killer (Vols. 1 & 2) by Jamie S. Rich & Joelle Jones

Lady Killer is a very funny, though dark, story about the troubles a woman faces when she works out of the home, balancing job and family, in the early 1960s. The twist, however, is that Josie Schuller’s work is that of a contract killer in heels. The humor comes in because her family — husband, two daughters, and live-in mother-in-law — are all clueless. Well, except maybe for the mother-in-law who is beginning to suspect something is not quite right with her all-too-perfect looking daughter-in-law.

The story is funny because it has all the clichés of the suburban family from the time period: The father with his feet up on the table watching TV after work while the wife, looking her best, prepares dinner for a largely unthankful family. The boss and his wife come ... Read More

The Mermaid Handbook: An Alluring Treasury of Literature, Lore, Art, Recipes, and Projects

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The Mermaid Handbook by Carolyn Turgeon

Carolyn Turgeon has followed up 2017’s The Faerie Handbook with The Mermaid Handbook: An Alluring Treasury of Literature, Lore, Art, Recipes, and Projects (2018), a similarly-themed and -structured guide to mermaid folklore throughout history and around the world, along with stunningly-photographed examples of modern mermaid couture, particularly the bespoke mermaid tails available in a range of colors and styles. And if readers are interested in mermaid-themed cocktails, snacks, or tablescapes for parties, this beautifully-crafted book provides tips and recipes to get anyone started down the right path.

This collection is more about the half-woman, half-fish mermaid concept than anything else, so there’s little about m... Read More

By Fire Above: The absurdity and brutality of war

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By Fire Above by Robyn Bennis

Robyn Bennis’ debut novel The Guns Above introduced readers to Captain Josette Dupre, Lord Bernat Hinkal, and the rest of the crew of the airship Mistral, caught up in a seemingly interminable war in defense of the Garnian empire against their Vinzhalian enemies. By Fire Above (2018) is the second entry in Bennis’ SIGNAL AIRSHIP series, and it’s just as flint- and steam-powered as the previous novel; while some of the former’s cheekiness has been set aside in favor of gallows humor and dark absurdity in the latter, it’s still as entertaining and compelling as its predecessor.

The only thing worse than being caugh... Read More

The Queen of Sorrow: Complex and triumphant

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The Queen of Sorrow by Sarah Beth Durst

The Queen of Sorrow (2018) is the third volume in Sarah Beth Durst’s THE QUEENS OF RENTHIA series, appearing to conclude the storylines of Queens Daleina, Naelin, and Merecot which began in The Queen of Blood and were explored further The Reluctant Queen. Renthia is a world filled with all manner of spirits, who are capable of tremendous destruction unless kept under tight control by the queen of the realm, who must also perform the expected state duties of caring for her subjects and guarding against incursion from foreign ent... Read More

Only Human: The return of the giant robots

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Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel

The giant robots are back! Only Human (2018) wraps up Sylvain Neuvel’s excellent THEMIS FILES science fiction trilogy with some surprising plot turns. *Expect some spoilers for the first two books, Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods*

At the end of Waking Gods, the robot called Themis was suddenly transported back home to her original planet by remote command of her alien makers, accidentally carrying along four people who happened to be inside of her: Vincent Couture, the only human capable of piloting Themis;... Read More

Medusa Uploaded: Revenge is a dish best served at absolute zero

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Medusa Uploaded by Emily Devenport

Medusa Uploaded (2018), Volume One of Emily Devenport’s THE MEDUSA CYCLE, begins with two bodies being expelled through the far-future generation ship Olympia’s airlock — bodies formerly belonging to living members of the Executive class of the ship’s inhabitants, and who were deliberately killed for a host of reasons ultimately boiling down to pure, simple revenge. But why is this revenge necessary, and who is stalking the men and women of this elite upper crust, culling them with ruthless efficiency?

Meet Oichi Angelis, a woman who is almost literally a worm in comparison to her “betters,” whose life is spent traveling through service tunnels and access ways, only allowed brief glimpses of the biomes and lavish living quarters enjoyed by the Executives. As a Servant, her a... Read More

Memory: Why Bujold is secretly revolutionary

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold

My copy of Memory looks like it was reread several dozen times and then shoved in the bottom of a backpack and schlepped a few hundred thousand miles (it was). It’s my favorite book in Lois McMaster Bujold’s VORKOSIGAN SAGA, which is a series made up of some of my favorite books. But it isn’t high literature or uber-intellectual science fiction or the kind of book that people call “genre bending.” The plot is pure, fast-paced, crime-solving fun, like the rest of the series. It’s just a cheap paperback.

But it moved me, and continues to move me. This review is my attempt to understand how and why. After some thought and another rereading, I’ve come to suspect that it’s a book built on tiny, imperfectly perfect human interactions. The meat of Memory isn’t... Read More

Mirror Dance: A fine metaphor

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is Marion's review of The Vor Game, Brothers in Arms, and Mirror Dance. Kat's comments about Mirror Dance are at the bottom.

Miles Vorkosigan is nearly a dwarf, with bones as brittle as fine porcelain, and he is a Vor, one of the elite, the son of the Imperial Regent. The Vor, and everyone on Barrayar for that matter, are terrified of mutation because of their history, and Miles looks like a mutation even though he isn’t one. During the middle books of this series, Miles finds a way to serve his planet while succeeding in space, where for the most part people judge achievement more than physical appearance.

Miles cannot esca... Read More

Jupiter’s Circle: An excellent retelling and critique of the golden age of superheroes

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Jupiter’s Circle (Volumes 1 & 2) by Mark Millar

Jupiter’s Circle (Volumes 1 & 2) by Mark Millar, a prequel to Jupiter’s Legacy, is an excellent retelling and critique of the golden age of superheroes. There’s plenty of action, but it is sidelined for the primary purpose of telling the private lives of the heroes. Their trials and tribulations behind the scenes are what make this comic so good. We see what the public in the comic does not, and what we see is often not a pretty sight. And by making certain characters similar to Superman and Batman, Millar gives us insight into our own famous comic book superheroes.

In Volume 1, the six-issue story arc is broken up into three smaller stories of two issues each. The first deals with a closeted s... Read More

Magic of Wind and Mist: Enchanting and entertaining

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Magic of Wind and Mist by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Cassandra Rose Clarke originally published two novels, The Assassin’s Curse and The Pirate’s Wish, which were later collected in the omnibus Magic of Blood and Sea. The omnibus Magic of Wind and Mist (2017) collects two more novels, The Wizard’s Promise and its previously-unpublished sequel, The Nobleman’s Revenge. Magic of Wind and Mist is directly affected by the events within Magic of Blood and Sea, and certain events and characters will ma... Read More

Exit West: A slightly speculative exploration of love, migration and nationality

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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

2017’s Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is definitely not speculative fiction. It is general fiction, literary in nature, which uses a trope of speculative fiction as one way to explore the nature of war, love and human migration.

There is always a risk when a general fiction writer “discovers” speculative fiction and tries to write it without having read within the genre. The story often contains hackneyed, tired-out elements which the writer trumpets as new and amazing. Hamid dodges this risk completely. His strange black rectangles, which appear in doorways, like in closets or storage sheds, and lead to other parts of the world, are not explained. Even though they lead to mass migrations, they are a minor part of the story. Exit West focuses on the impact of migration on nations, communities, ... Read More

Before Mars: Impossible to put down

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Before Mars by Emma Newman

Emma Newman has done it again with her third PLANETFALL novel, Before Mars (2018). I ignored my usual daily reading goals and limits, I ignored a growing stack of paperwork, and I even ignored dinner because I was far more invested in Dr. Anna Kubrin’s declining mental state. What other reason could there be for her growing distance from reality? Why else would she be convinced that something nefarious is going on at her tiny, isolated Mars research station, when the other four scientists-in-residence and the station’s AI insist that everything is copacetic?

Interestingly, Before Mars seems to exist contemporaneously with Afte... Read More

The Oracle Year: An exciting, fast-paced science fiction thriller

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The Oracle Year by Charles Soule

OCTOBER 8: FOURTEEN BABIES WILL BE BORN AT NORTHSIDE GENERAL HOSPITAL IN HOUSTON. SIX MALE, EIGHT FEMALE.

One morning at about 5:00 am, Will Dando, a struggling young New York musician, abruptly awakes from a vivid dream. In his dream, a voice told Will 108 oddly specific and rather random predictions about the future, which he remembers verbatim when he wakes up. Some are potentially life-changing: warnings of the collapse of a major bridge and other disasters. Others may have a huge financial effect: a football game that will be won by the Jets by four points; a caution about a late freeze of crops in the southeastern United States. Still others are apparently mundane:
APRIL 24 – MRS. LUISA ALVAREZ OF EL PASO, TEXAS, PURCHASES A QUART OF CHOCOLATE MILK, SOMETHING SHE HAS NOT HAD IN TWENTY YEARS, TO SEE IF SHE STILL ENJOYS THE TASTE AS ... Read More

The Valley Of Creation: Clan brothers

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The Valley Of Creation by Edmond Hamilton

One of the crowning events in the sci-fi/fantasy year 1948 was most assuredly the release of Jack Williamson’s 1940 novella Darker Than You Think as an expanded, full-length novel; it has since gone on to be acclaimed one of the greatest fictional books on the subject of lycanthropy ever written. In it, reporter Will Barbee learns that he is a primordial shapeshifter and, in one memorable sequence, runs through the night in the form of a wolf, relishing his exhilarating swiftness and grace. But this was not the only time in 1948 that the reader was presented with such a scenario. In the July issue of the 20-cent Startling Stories magazine that year, Williamson’s close fri... Read More

Senlin Ascends: Bizarre and delightful

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Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

Two years ago when we were involved with Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off, Senlin Ascends (2017) was one of the books that didn't make it to the final round (so we didn’t get to read it then). But Mark Lawrence read it, started talking about it on the internet, and it got picked up by Orbit Books. Hachette, the parent company of Orbit Books, just recently produced it in audio format and sent me a copy.

Thomas Senlin is a stuffy schoolmaster from a small town who just got married and is on his way with Marya, his new bride, to The Tower of Babel, a strange structure that ascends hundreds of feet in the air and whose top (if there is one) is obscured by clouds. Thomas has read ... Read More