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The Weapon Shops of Isher: An imaginative take on the right to bear arms

The Weapon Shops of Isher by A.E. van Vogt

I first came across the 1942 short story “The Weapon Shop” by A.E. van Vogt in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929–1964, a fantastic collection of some of the best short fiction from the pre-Nebula years that was instrumental in shaping my taste for science fiction when I was an impressionable teen. A few years later I came across the full-length novel The Weapon Shops of Isher (1951) in the two-volume collection Read More

Beneath the Twisted Trees: Fourth time is as much of a charm as the third

Beneath the Twisted Trees by Bradley P. Beaulieu

I have to confess right up front, with apologies to the author, that I finished Bradley Beaulieu’s Beneath the Twisted Trees (2019) just before heading out on a 40+ day trip out west that meshed college visits (for my son, not me) and hiking, and I unfortunately left my marked-up copy at home. Which means a) I have no access to my notes and b) thanks to full days and being off the grid so much, it’s been a while since I read it and c) thanks to A and B, this review will be more vaguely referenced than most of mine.

Beneath the Twisted Trees is the fourth in Beaulieu’s desert-based THE SONG OF THE SHATTERED SANDS series. I’ve given each of its predecessors a four-star rating, a trend that continu... Read More

The Glass Bead Game: Surprisingly appealing

The Glass Bead Game (or Das Glasperlenspiel or Magister Ludi) by Hermann Hesse

The Glass Bead Game (1943), written by Hermann Hesse, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946, is a finalist for a Retro Hugo Award this year. I picked up the audio edition produced by Blackstone Audio and pleasantly read by David Colacci. It’s more than 21 hours long.

The first section of the novel, which lasts 1.25 hours in the audiobook version, is titled “The Glass Bead Game: A General Introduction to its History For the Layman.” In this section, the book’s narrator explains why this book was written, some general problems with published biographies, and some history and background of the Glass Bead Game, including its origin and purpose and how it was responsible for changing culture. (How the game is played is something we never a... Read More

The Citadel of Weeping Pearls: A pearl of a mystery in the Xuya universe

The Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard’s UNIVERSE OF XUYA series of novellas and short stories has been nominated for Best Series in the 2019 Hugo awards, for very good reason. The detailed worldbuilding and thoughtful writing pull the reader into a world with an alternative history, where Chinese ships were the first to discover the Americas, drastically changing our history and leading to a space age future where Chinese and Vietnamese galactic empires hold great power and intelligent mindships interact with humans outside of the ship through projected avatars. De Bodard’s website has an extremely useful page that includes a brief description of the Xuya (“Dawn Shore”) universe and a hand... Read More

Akata Witch: An exciting, imaginative, and heart-warming story

Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Sunny Nwazue, an albino who needs to stay out of the sun, has always been different from the other kids in her school. When her family returned to Nigeria after living in the United States for most of Sunny’s childhood, she never quite found her place. Her strangeness becomes even more obvious when she sees a vision showing what appears to be scenes from the end of the world.

When Sunny finally makes a few friends, she begins to realize there's a reason for her strangeness, and that she's not the only weird kid in town. She finds out that she belongs to the Leopard People, an ancient bloodline that endows its descendants with various magical abilities. As Sunny is initiated into this new family, she learns that she and her friends are part of a prophecy related to her frightening apocalyptic vision. Without much knowledge or skills, Su... Read More

Ghost Wall: These are not the good old days

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Silvie’s summer vacation is a nightmare. She, her abusive father, and her browbeaten mother have joined a college professor and his three-person Experimental Archaeology class in the northern woods of England, where they are trying to live like the ancients. For the class, it’s a learning experience and something of a lark, at least at first. For Silvie’s father, it’s deadly serious; he’d love to live like that all the time, as he imagines Iron Age Britain to be the world of his racist and sexist dreams.

Things get worse when Silvie’s father and some of the others become obsessed with the grislier aspects of the olden days: the titular ghost wall — a fence topped with skulls that was meant to magically repel invaders — and the human sacrifices preserved in the peat bogs. Meanwhile, Silvie is both drawn to and terrified by Molly, one of the students, who refuses to allow Silvie to keep seein... Read More

DEV1AT3: An entertaining sequel ups the stakes for humanity

DEV1AT3 by Jay Kristoff

In a brutal, blasted country called the Yousay (USA, of course), hostile androids contend against regular humans and superpowered mutants against a backdrop of robot death matches, in a dystopian Mad Max type of world. DEV1AT3 (2019) is the sequel to LIFEL1K3, which should be read first. Obligatory warning: This review ― not to mention a helpful four-page glossary that author Jay Kristoff provides at the very beginning of DEV1AT3 ― contains a few major spoilers for LIFEL1K3. (Those spoilers are also in this book's blurb.)

Eve has spent her entire life thinking she was human, until disco... Read More

The Labyrinth Index: The American president is missing and that’s a bad thing

The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross

The Labyrinth Index (2018) is the ninth novel in Charles’ StrossLAUNDRY FILES epic. This installment features Mhari, Bob Howard’s psycho ex-girlfriend who we met back in The Rhesus Chart when she and her colleagues at a bank accidentally developed some software that turned them all into vampires.

Now she’s Dame Mhari Murphy – she’s been elevated to Baroness and she works for the new government in England. Her boss is N’yar Lat-Hotep, the Black Pharaoh, who’s been reincarnated as the new Prime Minister of England after the country was forced to make a lesser-evil type of deal with the ancient god to prevent the rise of Cthulhu.

Th... Read More

Night and Silence: Emotional and twisty

Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire

Night and Silence begins with Toby and her friends still recovering from the events of The Brightest Fell. Tybalt is suffering from PTSD and pushing Toby away. Jazz isn’t doing much better. Sylvester is mad at Toby because of what happened with Simon. Toby doesn’t need a new problem, but that’s exactly what she gets when her human ex, Cliff, and his wife, Miranda, turn up on her doorstep. Toby’s daughter Gillian, now a student at UC-Berkeley, has been kidnapped again. And Cliff and Miranda think Toby had something to do with it.

Roughly the first half of this installment feels like familiar ground. Gillian has been kidnapped before, and the plot structure of Toby traveling all over the metro area chasing down clues and red herrings is one that Seanan McGu... Read More

Holy Sister: A well-crafted finale

Holy Sister by Mark Lawrence

Holy Sister (2019), the third and final book in Mark Lawrence's BOOK OF THE ANCESTOR series, is a satisfying, well-crafted ending to an inventive series. Lawrence, at this point a veteran in the trenches of Heroic Fantasy, wraps things up with what's probably his greatest assurance of the series, and though the tropes on display will be familiar to fans of the genre (and of Lawrence's earlier work), they add up to an engaging and often thrilling finale.

But before we get into the meat of things, a quick synopsis: when last we left Nona and her friends, they were on the run from their enemies with a stolen shipheart. Lawrence recommences the narrative years later, but recounts the details of the escape in a succession of quick, deft flashbacks. In the present day, the u... Read More

The Sundering Flood: An old-fashioned heroic tale from a godfather of fantasy

We welcome a new guest reviewer: Michaela Hausmann.

The Sundering Flood by William Morris

The Sundering Flood (1897) is the last fantasy romance by William Morris. Unfinished during his lifetime, the romance was published posthumously by his daughter May Morris. It relates the trials and tribulations of the young hero Osberne and his female friend and future lover Elfhild. Although both are separated from each other by an impassable river (the eponymous Sundering Flood), they can communicate with each other across the water and form a close bond. When fate strikes and Elfhild seems lost, Osberne embarks on a journey to find her and becomes involved in a greater struggle for freedom.

Osberne is in many ways a typical h... Read More

SAGA Volume 8: Real and funny and heartbreaking

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Saga (Vol 8) by Brian K Vaughan (writer) & Fiona Staples (artist)

It’s been six months since I read Vol 7 of SAGA, and after moving to London last summer we recently popped into Forbidden Planet in Soho, and that store is an absolute treasure trove of SF comics, books, and other fan goodies. There are so many enticing comics on offer there, you could spend your entire salary in one wild shopping spree. When I saw Vol 8 of SAGA with Wild West cover art among the new releases, I knew I had to have it.

SAGA is my favorite comic series, because it is always pushing the envelope in terms of content, themes, gorgeously assured and sometimes shocking artwork, and characters so charming, honest and flawed that you can’t help but cheer for them. If you like intelligent, snarky, sometimes profane space opera with a v... Read More

Once Broken Faith: A solid entry

Once Broken Faith by Seanan McGuire

Once Broken Faith (2016) begins with a hilarious scene in which Toby & co. host a slumber party for a horde of fae teenagers, during which the kids devour unholy amounts of junk food and discover the joys of Disney movies. The festivities are then interrupted by Queen Arden Windermere, who wants Toby as a witness as she uses Walther’s elf-shot cure to wake Madden and Nolan. The High King decreed that no further use of the cure should take place until after a conclave of fae royalty can meet and discuss it, so Arden is exploiting a loophole. Madden wakes, but before Nolan can be roused, the High King shows up early.

The conclave will bring together all of the royal courts of the western United States, and Toby is also chosen to attend. Seanan McGuire introduces us to an in... Read More

SAGA Volume 7: A valuable stepping stone

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review:

Saga (Vol. 7) by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) and Fiona Staples (artist)

I had to wait nine months for Vol 7 of Brian Vaughan's Saga, and about a year for Vol 6, after reading the first 5 volumes back-to-back. Saga is my favorite current comic series (actually, the only one I am following at the moment), and if you haven’t read it then go out and read Vol 1 right now. If you like intelligent, snarky, sometimes profane space opera centered on a pair of star-crossed lovers who have a little girl named Hazel and an amazing supporting cast of bounty-hunters, humanoid robots, reporters, and various others all caught up in a gal... Read More

In the Shadow of Spindrift House: One day, we will all go into the water

In the Shadow of Spindrift House by Mira Grant

Zoinks, Scoob. Like, this is one crazy mixed-up book.

In the Shadow of Spindrift House (2019) is a lot like if Mystery, Inc. — you know, those four meddling kids, their talking dog, and that giant green van — stumbled into investigating a Lovecraftian tale. The difference being, of course, that Mira Grant’s novella is deadly, deadly serious, with little chance that any shambling or creeping horrors will be unmasked to reveal an old amusement-park owner who would have gotten away with his nefarious plan if not for said meddlers.

Harlowe Upton-Jones and her three friends, all recent high school graduates, are real-and-true teenage detectives. They’ve spent years solving cases ... Read More

Bewitched and Betrothed: Another fun few days with Lily

Bewitched and Betrothed by Juliet Blackwell

Anyone who’s been following Lily Ivory’s adventures as a witchy vintage dress shop owner who solves murders as a hobby has been looking forward to the tenth installment: Bewitched and Betrothed (2019).

As the title suggests, Lily is preparing for her wedding. The handfasting will be in a few days and Lily’s grandmother and her coven, as well as Lily’s mother, are in town. Of course, as readers have come to expect, nothing ever goes smoothly in Lily Ivory’s orbit. First, an old Alcatraz prisoner’s uniform has come into the shop, and Lily can sense the malice of the thing. Then the cousin of Carlos Romero (the friendly policeman) is kidnapped. These two events converge as Lily and her friends visit Alcatraz and try to solve the mysteries. There are some little romantic concerns, too, as usual. These will have to be taken care of before the day of the h... Read More

Limited Wish: You can’t always get what you want

Limited Wish by Mark Lawrence

As Limited Wish (2019) begins, Nick Hayes, the 16-year-old math genius that we met in One Word Kill (you need to read it first) is being pursued by a pack of drunken Cambridge students bent on beating him up. It’s 1986 and Nick has just been enrolled at Cambridge, thanks to the notice of Professor Halligan, a brilliant mathematician who recognizes Nick’s potential. What Prof Halligan doesn’t know is that Nick has to invent time travel so that when he’s older he can come visit his teenage self in the late 1980s and, in so doing, save Mia, the girl he thinks he loves and has a future with.

But there are several major problems with this scenario. Worst: (1) Nick has no idea how the mathematics of time travel might work, especially when you throw in the time paradoxes he’s ex... Read More

An Earthman on Venus: Formian follows function

An Earthman on Venus by Ralph Milne Farley

Sometimes, it seems, a man must go through any number of occupations before hitting on the one for which he will be best remembered. Take, for example, the case of Massachusetts-born Roger Sherman Hoar, who, before he turned 37, was an assistant attorney general and state senator, taught classes in engineering and math, and wrote books about patent, tariff and Constitutional law; after moving to the Midwest, Hoar would also become a state senator in Wisconsin. An impressive enough career for any man, to be sure, but today, Hoar is undoubtedly best remembered for the science fiction novels that he somehow found the time to write, hidden behind the pen name Ralph Milne Farley.

The first novel of Farley’s to see the light of day, The Radio Man, was initially serialized in the pages of the 10-cent weekly Argosy magazine, a... Read More

SAGA Volume 6: All about reunions

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Saga, Vol 6, Issues 31-36 by Brian K Vaughan (writer) and Fiona Staples (artist)

Saga Vol 6 is the first one I had to wait for, as I read the first 5 volumes back-to-back. This is such a popular, excellently-written, and amazingly-illustrated series that the main question fans will have is, “Is it still as greater as ever?” Well, I’d say it isn’t quite as brilliant as the first 4 volumes, but Vaughan and Staples have established a very high level of storytelling and can probably maintain it for quite some time. So rest assured, fans will not be overly disappointed. This series remains centered on the characters, though thi... Read More

The Grand Dark: A successful experiment for fans of the very strange

The Grand Dark by Richard Kadrey

By day, the bleak city of Lower Proszawa exists in shades of gray and black. Smoke from the many factories cloak the sky. Robotic vehicles roll along the streets, and robot devices and genetically-altered chimera share the sidewalks with the residents, including the wounded war veterans called Iron Dandies because many wear masks to hide burned and disfigured faces. By night, decadent theaters, bars, and mansions glow like moons as people party with a desperate glee — trying to hold at bay their fear of the plague, the new war, the Nachtvogel (secret police), the brutal city police, and each other.

Largo Moorden is a bike courier, a young man of simple needs. He just wants to make love to his girlfriend, party, and ensure that he has his next hit of morphia. An unexpected and undeserved promotion pushes Largo into a labyrinthine warren of discoveries about his city, the last war, and the coming o... Read More

SAGA Volume 5: SAGA keeps getting bigger

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Saga, Volume 5, Issues 25-30 by Brian K. Vaughan

Saga Vol 5 represents a noticeable shift in tone in the ever-evolving series. Until this point the story has managed to wonderfully balance the tribulations of Alana, Marko, Klara and Hazel; The Will, Lying Cat, Gwendolyn and Sophia in pursuit, Prince Robot IV, and the renegade terrorist Dengo. Some of my absolute favorite moments of Vol 4 involved Alana’s acting career and the hardships and temptations faced by Marko as a stay-at-home dad. I also found the story of Dengo incredibly relevant to today’s world in depicting the mentality of a terrorist who believes th... Read More

Poe Dameron Vol. 3: Legend Lost: A great lead-up to the events of The Last Jedi

Star Wars: Poe Dameron Vol. 3: Legend Lost by Charles Soule & Angel Unzueta

The third collection in the POE DAMERON series, which detail the events that lead up to The Force Awakens through the eyes of the (current) best pilot in the galaxy is a bit more serialized this time around, with several adventures that feel unconnected until the final chapter.

General Leia Organa is the leader of the Resistance, working out of a secret base on the planet D’Qar and sending Poe Dameron and his Black Squadron on a series of reconnaissance missions to undermine the First Order. So far they’ve dealt with a traitor in their midst and a ruthless former Imperial; now Poe meets with an old friend (a journalist called Suralina Javos of an alien species I’d love to see on the big screen) who has some information for him.

There are space battles here, and double-crosses, and plenty of the camaraderie... Read More

Poe Dameron Vol. 2: The Gathering Storm: Inching closer to open war

Star Wars: Poe Dameron Vol. 2: The Gathering Storm by Charles Soule & Phil Noto

This is the second in Charles Soule’s ongoing comic book series focused on Poe Dameron, though I didn't know that when I read it, and thankfully didn't feel like I needed anything catching up on anything. Set in the period leading up to The Force Awakens, this explores the growing conflict between the Resistance and the First Order, as well as the search for Lor San Tekka (as you'll recall, he was played by Max von Sydow in the movie).

As General Leia's best and most trusted pilot, Poe is tasked with the mission of finding Lor San Tekka, though he's deeply troubled by the possibility that a member of his Black Squadron is a traitor, feeding information to the First Order. But who is it?

Having received intelligence that one of C-3P... Read More

The Lesson: A thoughtful look at race relations, power, and violence

The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull

The Lesson (2019), by Cadwell Turnbull, is a solid first-contact sort of novel that feels fresh due to its unique setting in the Virgin Islands and has some serious depth to it in the way it uses the encounter between aliens and the islanders as a vehicle for exploring colonialism/race relations, though it left me wanting a little bit more in terms of character and craft.

The novel opens pre-landing with an introduction to the various major characters, including:

Derrick: a young sci-fi/fantasy fan who will eventually become assistant to the alien ambassador
Patrice: his neighbor and best friend
Jackson: Patrice’s father, a teacher and someone going through a mid-life crisis
Aubrey: Patrice’s mother, also learning more about herself
Grams/Harriet: Derrick’s stern grandmother
Lee: Derrick’s younger sister
M... Read More

Poe Dameron Vol. 1: Black Squadron: A better look at a STAR WARS favourite

Star Wars: Poe Dameron Vol. 1: Black Squadron by Charles Soule & Phil Noto

There’s so much STAR WARS-related content out there at the moment that it’s difficult to know what’s worthy of your time and energy and what isn’t. For those that are specifically interested in the latest STAR WARS sequel trilogy and the character of Poe Dameron (played by Oscar Isaac), then Charles Soule’s STAR WARS: POE DAMERON series of comics serves as a direct lead-up to The Force Awakens, gathering up characters and plot-strands that drive the 2015 film.

It’s been thirty years since the defeat of the Empire in The Return of the Jedi, but the First Order has slowly but surely risen to take its place. So far though, the threat it poses has not been recognized by the rest of the... Read More