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Jack: Horror during the London Blitz

Jack by Connie Willis

Subterranean Press is reissuing Connie Willis’s moody and bleak novella Jack (1991), which was a finalist for the Nebula and Hugo awards and has appeared in several anthologies over the years. It’s set during the London Blitz in WWII, one of Willis’ favorite settings for her works, including the time-travel novels Blackout and All Clear and the Nebula and Hugo award-winning novelette Fire Watch. Once again, there’s something peculiar going on during the Blitz … but this time it’s not just time travelers visiting from the future.

Jack Harker is p... Read More

Entangled Life: Zombie ants, psychedelic trips, even a Star Trek connection

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures (2020), by Merlin Sheldrake, is an always informative and often fascinating look at the (mostly) hidden world of fungi. There’s a lot more to them than those shitakes you’re adding to your stir-fry and Sheldrake makes for an enthusiastic tour guide to all that lies beyond the edible mushroom (though he touches on those too).

Sheldrake begins with truffles (he goes on a truffle hunt with a couple of dogs and their trainer) and uses this early part to introduce us to the basics of fungal life and their development on Earth. Like the entirety of the book, this section is filled with choice details (a 2 to 8000-yr-old fungus in Oregon taking up ten square kilometers and weighing in at hundreds of tons, the fungi growing o... Read More

Darth Vader: Vader by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Darth Vader: Vader by Kieron Gillen (writer) and Salvador Larroca (artist)

Darth Vader (Volume One): Vader by Kieron Gillen is just as good, if not better than, Star Wars (Volume One): Skywalker Strikes by Jason Aaron, both of which came out recently from Marvel. Marvel now has the rights to the Star Wars comic books, and so they are reissuing quickly all the Star Wars comics that were put out over the years by Dark Horse. In addition to these reissues, the... Read More

Network Effect: Complex connections with friends and enemies

Network Effect by Martha Wells

Martha Wells’ Murderbot has been gathering enthusiastic fans (which would be certain to have Murderbot hiding behind its opaque armored faceplate), along with multiple Nebula, Hugo and other awards and nominations, as each of the first four novellas in the MURDERBOT DIARIES series has been published over the last three years. In Network Effect (2020), the first full-length novel in this series, Wells is able to explore a more complex plot and to more fully develop Murderbot’s character and its relationships with others.

Murderbot is now with Dr. Mensah and the other Preservation Station characters who Murderbot was protecting in the first book, All Systems Red, and the fourth, Read More

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

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 of superior sapient intelligence; just beca... Read More

The Last Emperox: The finale to a compulsively readable SF series

The Last Emperox by John Scalzi

A few thousand years in the future, one branch of humanity, comprised of billions of people, lives on a set of planets called the Interdependency. Their star systems are many hundreds of light years apart but tied together by the Flow, a sort of hyperspace river that connects these planets. The problem is that the Flow is gradually collapsing, one stream at a time, and all of the Interdependency worlds except one (called End) are completely incapable of sustaining human life without the constant importing of food and goods from other worlds — hence the term “Interdependency.” In fact, this economic system was deliberately set up a thousand years earlier in order to enrich just a few elite families, each of which have a monopoly on certain key goods and have become immensely wealthy and powerful as a result.

As The Last Emperox (2020), the concluding novel in Read More

Curious Toys: Dark, scary and twisty, like a good dark ride should be

Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand

Pin Maffucci wanders the midway and aisles of Chicago’s Riverview Amusement Park, running errands and delivering dope for Max, the carnival’s She-Male performer. At nearly fourteen, Pin is considered small for his age. That’s partly because Pin, with his trousers, cropped curls and cap, is really a girl in disguise. When a young woman from the nearby Essenay Film Studio is found murdered in one of the dark rides, Pin investigates, putting her own life at risk, and she has no idea who to trust.

Elizabeth Hand’s 2019 novel Curious Toys is an historical mystery set in 1915. There is no directly fantastical element, but the phantasms created by the human minds in this story shift it nearly into horror on more than one occasion. And while it’s not fantasy, the fantasies of an h... Read More

Shorefall: Come for the heists and explosions, stay for the debates

Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Once upon a time there was a small group of uber-powerful folks who truly messed up the world. Luckily that was ages, sorry, I mean, Ages, ago. But now one of those ancient badass power users is potentially going to return and hoo boy is the world in trouble if he gathers all his power yet again. Thank the gods for the plucky group of scruffy underdogs who are definitely not a fellowship and who have decided to risk their lives to prevent the Dark Power’s rise. Anyone? Bueller?

OK, yes. We’ve all heard it before. So you might be forgiven if, upon learning that Robert Jackson Bennett’s newest title, Shorefall (sequel to the fantastic Foundryside), is a... Read More

Time of Daughters: Excellent epic fantasy

Time of Daughters by Sherwood Smith

In Time of Daughters, Book One (2019), Sherwood Smith returns to the world of Sartorias-Deles, the setting for most of her fantasy novels. This epic tale, broken into two volumes, begins about a century after the INDA quartet of books about the historic Marlovan military commander. The country of Marlovan Iasca (later called Marloven Hess) is particularly noteworthy for the huge influence of the military in its society, amped up with a healthy side of political intriguing — including, on occasion, assassinations — and a social structure where marriage among those in the upper class is primarily for political purposes and strengthening alliances with other powerful families, and romantic love is typically found elsewhere.

Book One of Time of Daughters Read More

Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea: Hellboy Goes Sailing

Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea by Mike Mignola (writer) and Gary Gianni (artist)

Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea is such a short volume that, at less than sixty pages, it can hardly be called a graphic novel. Still, it is a worthwhile read and a great addition to the Hellboy canon. The story starts off in a dismal place: a dark, foreboding shoreline with large, shipwrecked boats cast up on the rocks and half-sunken in the shallow waters. The mood is aided by a quotation from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the Romantic poet. From the excerpt of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner comes the title of this volume: Into the Silent Sea.

The story starts off with Hellboy launching from the shore in a small sailboat, and he heads into the windy sea. As we watch him sail, we are given quotations from the poem “The Pilot” by Thomas Haynes Bayly. He app... Read More

Beneath the Rising: A horror adventure about friendship and betrayal

Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed

If you’ve had the good fortune to read any of Premee Mohamed’s short fiction, you know it is strange, beautiful and often horrifying. In Beneath the Rising (2020), her first full-length novel, all these things are true. This adventure novel with tentacular monsters and evil Ancient Ones will sweep you along and get deeply under your skin.

Joanna Chambers, who goes by Johnny, is more than a genius and more than a prodigy. She might be a miracle. In a world much like ours but very changed by Johnny’s inventions and discoveries, her best friend Nick, a regular guy, tries to be a lifeline for his rich, brilliant celebrity friend. Although she hasn’t turned eighteen yet, Johnny has found a vaccine for HIV, created improved solar panels that are in use around the world, developed clean water systems and food sources for hundreds of millions.... Read More

Practical Magic: The superior book behind the cult film

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Like most people, I became aware of Alice Hoffman's 1995 novel Practical Magic through the nineties film adaptation starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock. It's not a great movie, but it has a charm of its own, and it led me to the original story upon which it's based. It's striking to see the differences and similarities between the two.

The film leans more heavily on its magical elements, even becoming something of a supernatural thriller at some points, whereas the book is more interested in the three generations of Owens women and their lives, whether it be the tragedy of the aunts, the love stories of Gillian and Sally, or the coming-of-age rites of Antonia and Kylie.

As children, Sally and Gillian Owens were ostracized from their New England community due to the persistent rumour that they and their extended family were witches. Onc... Read More

The Language of Thorns: Magical folk tales that stir the pot

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo

The Language of Thorns (2017) is a collection of six stories and novelettes by Leigh Bardugo, dark and lyrical folk tales set in her GRISHA universe, in the Russian-inspired country of Ravka and other nearby countries. These are stand-alone stories, unrelated to the specific characters and events in the GRISHA novels. This tales might be told on a dark night by a villager living in Ravka.

Bardugo’s stories, containing elements of both fantasy and horror, include elements of traditional fairy tales like “Hansel and Gretel,” “ Read More

Before the Devil Breaks You: Another solid entry in an engrossing series

Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

This is the third of four planned books in Libba Bray's THE DIVINERS series, set in New York in the 1920s, in which speakeasies, jazz and the Prohibition ruled the streets. The titular Diviners are a group of people from all walks of life that have one thing in common: preternatural gifts.

Evie is a radio personality that can glean psychic visions from handling certain objects. Memphis Campbell is a black poet and healer. Theta is a Zeigfeld girl who can start fires. Ling is a disabled Chinese girl who can communicate with the dead. Henry DuBois is a gay pianist who can wander in people's dreams. Sam Lloyd is a Jewish pickpocket who can render himself invisible to those around him.

You couldn't think up a more motley crew, and yet all of them have come together on more ... Read More

Night of Cake & Puppets: Charming YA romance set in Prague

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Night of Cake & Puppets by Laini Taylor

For years Laini Taylor’s been a favorite here at FanLit, and now I know why. I picked up Night of Cake & Puppets, a stand-alone novella set in Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE world, because it was short and available on audio at exactly the length I needed for a recent car trip: two hours and forty-five minutes. Perfect. That’s not all that was perfect about Night of Cake & Puppets. Everything was perfect about Night of Cake & Puppets. Well, except I wish it had been longer. Longer would have been perfect.

Night of Cake & Puppets is about Zuzana and Mik’s first date. Zuzana, in case you don’t know, is the best friend of Karou, Laini Taylor’s heroine in the SMOKE & BONE books. I haven’t read those books, but that... Read More

Station Zero: A superb conclusion to an excellent YA trilogy

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Station Zero by Philip Reeve

With Station Zero (2019), Philip Reeve brings to an end the RAILHEAD trilogy begun with Railhead and Black Light Express, and if it’s not a perfect conclusion, it’s pretty darn close, leaving you at the end with a sense of satisfying, even gratifying, resolution tinged with a lingering bittersweetness that makes the final result all the more richly rewarding. With this Cosmic Railroad trilogy (not an official title) and his earlier PREDATOR CITIES/MORTAL ENGINES work, Reeve has served up three... Read More

Black Light Express: Does what every good sequel should

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Black Light Express by Philip Reeve

Black Light Express (2017) is Philip Reeve’s just-as-good-as-the-first-book follow up to Railhead, continuing the exhilarating romp while expanding the universe and its inhabitants, as well as digging a bit more deeply into the hidden history of the created world and offering up some more page time to some of the first book’s secondary characters. Warning: there will be some inevitable spoilers for book one (you can just stop here with the take-away that I recommend the duology). First spoiler begins in the very next line!

So at the end of Railhead, Nova and Zen had opened a gate to a whole othe... Read More

Hellboy in Hell (Vol. 2): The Death Card: An Ambiguous Finale

Hellboy in Hell (Vol. 2): The Death Card by Mike Mignola (writer and artist), Dave Stewart (colors), and Clem Robins (letters).

This second and final volume of Hellboy in Hell collects issues 6-10. It opens with Baba Yaga reminding the reader what came before: “He fought and killed a dragon but the dragon was actually a witch. Her ghost plucked out his heart and cast it into Hell.” In the first volume of Hellboy in Hell, Hellboy “went into Pandemonium and cut Satan’s throat . . . . And now all Hell is in turmoil.”

When we join Hellboy in this volume, he has been wandering in Hell, lost in the maze-like expansive city surrounding the Stygian Sea. He gets a lesson in geography from two lost souls before a bad reunion and a card game of sorts with a former vampire. Saved by a minister in Hell, Hellboy continues to wander Hell in Chapter One, issue six, “The Death Card”... Read More

The World of the Giant Ants: Bugging out

The World of the Giant Ants by A. Hyatt Verrill

In two novels that I recently read, Ralph Milne Farley’s The Radio Man (1924) and its sequel, The Radio Beasts (1925), engineer Myles Cabot accidentally transports himself to Venus and discovers a society of enormous and intelligent ants, the so-called Formians. But, it would seem, if a certain book of 1928 is to be believed, Cabot did not have to leave planet Earth to discover such gigantic and civilized creatures. The book in question is The World of the Giant Ants, which initially appeared in the p... Read More

The Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy: A very fine collection

The Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy by Francis Stevens

Up until recently, Minneapolis-born author Francis Stevens had been a very solid 3 for 3 with this reader. Her first novel, 1918’s The Citadel of Fear, had proved to be a mindblower, dealing as it did with the lost city of Tlapallan, nightmarish creatures, and battling Aztec gods. Her second novel, 1919’s The Heads of Cerberus, was a dystopian affair set in a totalitarian Philadelphia and is one of the first sci-fi offerings to feature a parallel time track. And in Stevens’ fourth novel, 1920’s Read More

Empress of Forever: Thrilling space opera, but it is science fiction?

Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone

Max Gladstone’s Empress of Forever (2019) is definitely space opera. In a far distant future, tech genius, entrepreneur and loner Vivian Liao travels from planet to planet and system to system trying to find an advantage in a losing war against an all-powerful space empress. Viv, who is plucked by that same empress out of her our-present-day life (and planned rebellion), draws to herself the usual strange pack of uneasy allies in this battle. The book is complicated, fascinating, fast-paced, and star-and-planet hopping. I’m not sure it’s science fiction.

Viv Liao is a titan of tech, a brilliant, quirky creator who has made billions of dollars and finally, become a threat to the wrong people. On the night of her birthday party she flees, enacting her own personal plan for a... Read More

The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London

The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London by Christopher Skaife

“If you want to know history, read a book. If you want a story, take a tour.” — Christopher Skaife

The Ravenmaster was published in 2018. It’s nonfiction and it isn’t particularly about science, even the science of ravens. It’s got some history, some memoir, and some ghosts, but it isn’t about those things. I’m reviewing it here for one reason only: ravens.

Christopher Skaife, who authored The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London, is the Yeoman Warder of the Tower, and his first responsibility is caring for the seven ravens who currently inhabit the compound. He also, along with several other warders, gives tours to the public. Skaife has a YouTube presence and a twitter account (@ravenmaster1) if you want to see an... Read More

Lent: Big twist makes for a powerful exploration of deep themes

Lent by Jo Walton

Jo Walton writes truly thoughtful books, as anyone who has read her THESSALY TRILOGY (The Just City, The Philosopher Kings, Necessity) knows. She’s also, those fans also know, a big fan of Renaissance Italy, particularly Florence. So it comes as no surprise to find this the setting for her newest novel, Lent (2019), which wrestles in the same thought-provoking manner major issues, though here those issues are more personal and intimate, even as they also encompass larger political and philosophical concepts and consequences.

The first half (or nearly so) of th... Read More

The Uninvited: Book vs. film

The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle

Although 1944’s The Uninvited has long been one of this viewer’s favorite spooky movies of that great filmmaking decade, it wasn’t until fairly recently that I learned of the special place it holds in cinema history. The film, apparently, was the very first Hollywood product to treat ghosts seriously. Here, at last, the specters on display were not hoaxes, not fakes, and not played for laughs. Rather, they were completely legit; supernatural survivors with unfinished business here on the material plane. Featuring first-rate acting by a cast of pros, impressive direction by Lewis Allen in his first feature-length film, a theme song that would go on to become a classic, remarkable (for its time) special FX, and stunning, noirish and Oscar-nominated cinematography by the great Charles Lang, the picture is a very solid entertainment, indeed, if perhaps a tad tame for today’s horror buffs … especia... Read More

Lies Sleeping: The newly-promoted wizarding detective returns

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant, our favourite semi-competent detective cum wizard-in-training, returns in Lies Sleeping (2018), the seventh book in Ben Aaronovitch’s RIVERS OF LONDON series. The Faceless Man has been unmasked and is on the run, and it is now up to Peter and the inimitable Detective Chief Inspector Nightingale (slash last officially sanctioned English Melvin the Wizard) to apprehend him.

(Fair warning: some spoilers for preceding books will follow.)

London is once more under threat and there can only be one man behind it. Readers will remember that the Faceless Man was finally unmasked as Martin Chorley, who, in tru... Read More