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The Sword of Summer: Rick Riordan goes Norse

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

Rick Riordan, who has enthralled millions of readers with exciting tales of teenagers and their interactions with Greek, Roman and Egyptian gods and goddesses, turns to Norse mythology in his latest book, The Sword of Summer, published October 6, 2015.

Magnus Chase is sixteen years old and has been homeless for two years, since his mother died. Magnus remembers the door of their apartment splintering and wolves with glowing blue eyes bursting in as his mother shooed him out the fire escape. His mother had always told him to avoid his uncles, especially Uncle Randolph ― but Magnus runs into Randolph, who somehow convinces him to accompany him to retrieve an ancient sword from the waters below Longfellow Bridge in Boston. Magnus magically calls the... Read More

For We Are Many: More adventures in the Bobiverse

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For We Are Many by Dennis E. Taylor

I really enjoyed Dennis E. Taylor’s We Are Legion (We Are Bob) last December after discovering it by accident as Audible’s Best SF of 2016. I generally tend to read fairly serious, literary, and ambitious SFF books and realized I needed a light break and We Are Legion (We Are Bob) was the perfect change of pace. The BOBIVERSE series really is a fun place to spend some time, and it is the narrative voice that makes the books worth reading. In fact, I think the audiobook narrator Ray Porter is absolutely perfect for this series, his delivery is so perfectly in tune with the breezy, snarky tone of the book that his performance deserves a star a... Read More

Rendezvous with Rama: Multi-award winner with controversial ending

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Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

In 2131, humans are minding their own business when a large object thought to be an asteroid is detected at the edge of our solar system. As it gets closer to Earth it is photographed and found to be unnatural — obviously an alien spaceship. A team of scientists is sent to meet the ship dubbed “Rama” and to make our first contact with an alien species. When they get there, they find Rama uninhabited and they set out to discover all they can about the aliens who must have launched it. What are they like and what do they want with us?

As Robert J. Sawyer mentions in the introduction the audio version I listened to, Arthur C. Clarke’s strength is not his characterization — ... Read More

A Darker Shade of Magic: Well-executed story, intriguing setting

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Reposting to include Tim's new review.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

I was a big fan of V.E. Schwab’s 2013 novel Vicious, noting in my review how she had overcome the possible burden of overfamiliar concepts (it’s a folks-with-powers-who-have-some-gray-to-them kind of novel) with supremely polished execution. Well, she’s pretty much done the same with her newest novel, A Darker Shade of Magic, which takes many of the usual fantasy tropes and, again, just handles them all so smoothly that you simply don’t care much that you’ve seen them all before.

The basic concept is a nicely focused tweak of the multi-verse model, with a series of parall... Read More

The Perseids and Other Stories: Strange nights in Toronto

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The Perseids and Other Stories by Robert Charles Wilson

I’m mostly a sceptic of both short stories and short story collections. When reading short science fiction, I can’t help thinking that if the premise were truly worthwhile, the author would have developed it into a novel — or at least a novella. I’m perhaps revealing my own limitations rather than my preferences. Still, I’ve found that the most common descriptions of short story collections are “mixed bag” or “some are duds.” And because every word counts so much more in shorts, the prose too often is so much more… overwrought. Ironic or not, considering that science fiction is often carried by an interesting premise rather than interesting characters, some part of me still insists that its best ideas be delivered as novels.

So I was pleased to realize that Read More

Wicked Wonders: The wonder and magic in our lives

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Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages

In Wicked Wonders (2017), Ellen Klages has assembled an impressive collection of her short stories. Although almost all of these stories have been previously published (the sole exception is “Woodsmoke”), most of them appeared in anthologies and are unlikely to be familiar to most readers. These fourteen stories run the gamut from non-fiction (“The Scary Ham”) to straight fiction (“Hey, Presto,” “Household Management” and “Woodsmoke”) to science fiction and fantasy. They’re often bittersweet or wistful and frequently surreal; tales of ordinary lives in which the fantastical or unexpected element sneaks up and taps you on the shoulder, and when you turn around the world has shifted.

Several tales in Wicked Wonders are reminiscent of certain of Ray Bradbury’s short ... Read More

Roses and Rot: The price of making dreams come true

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Roses and Rot by Kat Howard

Roses and Rot (2016) is a slow-building but beautifully written dark fantasy, loosely based on a familiar folk tale that isn’t disclosed until about a third of the way into the novel, so I’ll refrain from giving it away. Primarily Roses and Rot explores the relationship between two adult sisters and their devotion to their respective arts, and how that affects their relationship during a year they spend at Melete, an elite fine arts retreat program in New Hampshire. At the same time, it asks hard questions of its characters, and of us as readers, about what we are willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of our art, or any other personal goal.

Imogen, the narrator and older sister, is an author who uses fairy tale themes and motifs in her stories; her sister Marin is a gifted ballet dancer. The sisters’ relat... Read More

Skullsworn: Tight, tense, and sensual

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Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

I had a so-so reaction to The Emperor's Blades, the first book in Brian Staveley’s CHRONICLE OF THE UNHEWN THRONE trilogy, but he completely won me over with the second book, The Providence of Fire, and then brought me happily home with book three The Last Mortal Bond. So I was excited to see that his newest, Skullsworn, was set in the same universe and centered on Pyrre, one of the more intriguing characters in the trilogy thanks in... Read More

The Guns Above: An airship captain and a dandy fop walk into a bar…

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The Guns Above
by Robyn Bennis

Robyn Bennis’ debut novel, The Guns Above (2017), is a fun blend of flintlock rifles, airships, military exercises, and wry commentary on both gender politics and “military intelligence.” There’s enough whip-smart dialogue to make any reader laugh out loud, and readers who are mechanically inclined will love the detailed descriptions of gears, flight tests, and ballast.

Josette Dupre is the first female airship captain in the Garnian Aerial Signal Corps, a promotion which may as well be a death warrant: her homeland, Garnia, is at war with the neighboring country of Vinzhalia over a contested bit of land, and her new rank comes with appointment to a “revolutionary new design” for airships — an appellation which generally signifies doom. Even worse, a ridiculous young aristocrat named Lord Bernat Hinkal... Read More

Black Science (Vol. 1) by Rick Remender (An Oxford College Student Review!)

In this new column, I feature comic book reviews written by my students at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small liberal arts school just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I challenge students to read and interpret comics because I believe sequential art and visual literacy are essential parts of education at any level (see my Manifesto!). I’ll be posting the best of my students’ reviews in this column. Today, I am proud to present a review by Claire Ofotokun.

Claire is a freshman and is pursuing a double major in dance and business.  She lives in Atlanta and particularly enjoys Atlanta’s warm weather and the diversity of cultures, music, and art.  Dance and the arts have been a large part of her life, and she has a special interest in creating movement because it allows her to express her thoughts in a way speaking... Read More

The Chrysalids: Forbidden post-apocalyptic telepaths

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Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

The Chrysalids by John Wynhdam

It’s no wonder that David dreams of a distant and wondrous city at night: life in the post-apocalyptic settlement, Waknuk, is difficult. Waknuk’s people are descended from the survivors of the Tribulation, which everyone knows was sent by God to punish the Old People. Though David and his community are lucky to have any land to live on, they must always guard against Deviations — in their crops, in their livestock, and in their children.

Deviations are not made in God’s True Image. Children that, say, have six toes, have the Devil in them, so they are either destroyed or else sent to the Fringes after they are sterilized. Though these exiles may later return as raiders, life in Waknuk is — if not always peaceful — still much better than life in the Badlands.

David Str... Read More

The Liar’s Key: A fun second novel

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The Liar’s Key
by Mark Lawrence

For better or for worse, The Liar’s Key (2015) — the second novel in Mark Lawrence’s RED QUEEN’S WAR series — is in large part just a second helping of the first book. Readers who enjoyed Prince of Fools will probably find a lot to enjoy this time around as well. Those who might be reading this review in the hopes that I’ll tell them that this one is so much better will probably be disappointed.

Not to say that The Liar’s Key is a bad book by any means. Indeed, it’s rather a good one, filled with the same char... Read More

Sins of Empire: Familiar characters and fantastic plot in a new setting

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Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan

In Sins of Empire, Brian McClellan makes his explosive return to the world of THE POWDER MAGE trilogy with a sequel series called GODS OF BLOOD AND POWDER. Sins of Empire (2017) is the first GODS OF BLOOD AND POWDER novel, so I’d recommend checking out THE POWDER MAGE trilogy first before picking up this book. If you’re curious about McClellan’s work, you can check our reviews here: Promise of Blood, The Crimson Campaign, and Read More

In the Labyrinth of Drakes: Come for the dragons, stay for the voice

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In the Labyrinth of Drakes by Marie Brennan

In the Labyrinth of Drakes is the fourth book in the MEMOIRS BY LADY TRENT series by Marie Brennan, and in terms of quality I’d place it just behind the second one, The Tropic of Serpents, which so far is my favorite. And if it has a few of the same issues that have detracted from prior books, as always, these are outweighed by the wonderful voice of the narrator, which is really the number one reason for picking up this series.

As has been the pattern, In the Labyrinth of Drakes sees Lady Trent looking back on a trip to yet another foreign setting in order to study the native dragon species. And again, as usual, other issues arise that complicate her endeavor. In this case, the setti... Read More

Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld

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Spill Zone written by Scott Westerfeld illustrated by Alex Puvilland

Scott Westerfeld’s newest story, Spill Zone, is a graphic novel illustrated by Alex Puvilland that takes place several years after Poughkeepsie suffered a major “spill,” and while nobody knows exactly what that entailed, nanotechnology and a nuclear power plant are mentioned as being involved. Whatever it was changed things inside the city, leaving behind fantastical creatures, changed animals, and “meat puppets” (think zombies). Addison’s twelve-year-old sister Lexa escaped that night, driven out on a bus with some other school children by a mysterious driver. Her parents, working at the hospital that night, did not. Addison herself was out of the city that night partying. Now she tak... Read More

Dragon and Thief: The boy with the (living) dragon tattoo

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Dragon and Thief by Timothy Zahn

Dragon and Thief (2003, issued in trade paperback in 2016) blends dragons and space opera in an exciting middle grade science fictional adventure. The dragon in the title is Draycos, a warrior-poet of an alien species called the K’da, who are able to shift from a three-dimensional being to a two-dimensional tattoo that attaches to your skin, moving around your body at will. The K’da are also a symbiont species, requiring a host to attach themselves to at least every six hours, or they fade away and die. In return, they offer their host protection and companionship.

The K’da have been linked with the humanoid Shontine people for years, but recently both have been under attack from a vicious people called the Valahgua, who are doing their best to exterminate the K’da and the Shontine and gain control over their part of spac... Read More

Blackout: If you think you’re fed up with zombies, make an exception

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Blackout  by Mira Grant

This review contains spoilers for the first two books in the NEWSFLESH trilogy, Feed and Deadline.

Mira Grant’s Blackout (2012) ends almost exactly where Deadline (2011) ended. Georgia — George — Mason has awakened to find that she has made a miraculous recovery from being shot in the brainstem, and without retinal Kellis-Amberlee (the virus that causes people to become zombies, named for the discoverer of a cure for the common cold and the discoverer of a cure for cancer, which combined with obviously horrible results; and a reservoir condition like retinal Kellis-Amberlee is one in which the virus is resident in a single organ, but the individual never amplifies to... Read More

House of Suns: Truly epic time scales, but characters also shine

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House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

This is the first Alastair Reynolds’ book I’ve read not set in his REVELATION SPACE series, and many of his fans claim House of Suns (2008) is his best book. I’d have to say it is pretty impressive, dealing with deep time scales rarely seen for any but the most epic hard SF books. What’s unique about House of Suns is not simply that the story spans hundreds of thousands of years, but that the characters actually live through these massive cycles as they loop around the Milky Way galaxy, experiencing everything it has to offer. It staggers the imagination to think that humanity has survived over 6 million years into the future without annihilating itself, splintered into myriad post-human civilizations that flower a... Read More

Weird Dinosaurs: The Strange New Fossils Challenging Everything We Thought We Knew

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Weird Dinosaurs: The Strange New Fossils Challenging Everything We Thought We Knew by John Pickrell

I don’t know if I’d call the creatures detailed in John Pickrell’s Weird Dinosaurs all that “weird,” to be honest. One gets the sense that the main title is more marketing than description. But the subtitle — The Strange New Fossils Challenging Everything We Thought We Knew — is nearer to the mark with regard to the book’s contents, even allowing for perhaps a bit of hyperbole.

Really, what we have here is a mostly excellent up-to-date rundown of new discoveries in the field and how those new discoveries confirm current theories or, just as often, either overturn them or, at the least, force some careful reconsideration/modification. This should come as no surprise, given how rare fossilization is and thus ... Read More

The Mindwarpers: An oddball addition to Russell’s canon

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The Mindwarpers by Eric Frank Russell

For his ninth novel out of what would ultimately run to 10, English sci-fi author Eric Frank Russell pulled a bit of a switcheroo on his readers. The book in question was initially released in the U.K. in 1964 in a hardcover edition by British publishing house Dennis Dobson, sporting the title With a Strange Device. A year later, it was released here in the U.S. as a 50-cent Lancer paperback (the edition that I was fortunate enough to acquire at Brooklyn bookstore extraordinaire Singularity), as its author was turning 60, but with a new and perhaps catchier title: The Mindwarpers. Written at the height of Cold War tensions, and at the peak of the world... Read More

The Hanging Tree: A return of “weird bollocks”

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The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch

DCI Peter Grant returns in both literal and proverbial car crash style in The Hanging Tree, the latest addition to Ben Aaronovitchs RIVERS OF LONDON series. We left Peter and the gang still reeling from their adventures in Herefordshire in Foxglove Summer (adventures that included a magical rampaging unicorn), but we see a return to the concrete jungle that is London for Peter’s latest escapades.

The Hanging Tree opens in no-nonsense fashion with Lady Ty, goddess of the river Tyburn, asking Peter for a favour. She wants her daughter Olivia cleared of any involvement with a d... Read More

Gather Her Round: A TUFA horror story

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Gather Her Round by Alex Bledsoe

Gather Her Round (2017) is Alex Bledsoe’s fifth stand-alone TUFA novel. Though each of these stories has mostly the same setting and some of the same characters, and though they tend to have some of the same major plot elements (e.g., the appearance of ghosts, a musical performance, a murder mystery, an outsider who stumbles upon their tiny strange community), they are surprisingly different in tone. They can be read in any order and you don’t need any previous TUFA knowledge to enjoy Gather Her Round though it may help to know that the Tufa are a race of close-knit secretive folk who descended from the Tuatha Dé Danann and, s... Read More

Waking Gods: The sleeping giants have arisen

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Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

Waking Gods (2017) is the sequel to last year's breakout debut and Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Science Fiction, Sleeping Giants. In Sleeping Giants, Sylvain Neuvel introduced readers to Dr. Rose Franklin who, as a child, fell into a hole and discovered a giant metal hand. Driven by passion and destiny, she would grow up to identify, discover and put together the remaining pieces of a giant metal goddess, named by the discoverers, Themis.

(Note: this review contains some spoilers for THEMIS FILES #1, Sleeping Giants.)

Relative newcomer Neuvel is a rising st... Read More

Penric’s Mission: The best Penric story so far

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Penric’s Mission by Lois McMaster Bujold

Penric’s Mission (2017) is the third novella in Lois McMaster Bujold’s PENRIC AND DESDEMONA series which is part of her multiple-award-winning FIVE GODS series (The Curse of Chalion, The Paladin of Souls, and The Hallowed Hunt). It follows the novellas Penric’s Demon (2015) and Read More

Luna: New Moon: A glamorous lunar soap opera

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald

I want to start this review by saying that many readers are going to absolutely love Luna: New Moon (2015) and, even though I’m not one of them, I can completely understand why they will. I admired this a lot more than I enjoyed it.

Luna: New Moon, the first installment in Ian McDonald’s LUNA series, is an epic soap opera. It’s like The Godfather, Dynasty, or Dallas on the moon. The story focuses on the Cortas, a family that lives on the moon under the head of its elderl... Read More