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Endless Sky: The Story of a Swiss in America by David Boller

Endless Sky: The Story of a Swiss in America by David Boller

In the past few years, I’ve gained an appreciation for comic book memoirs, and Endless Sky by David Boller is another enjoyable work in this category. It doesn’t have the brilliant poetry of Fun Home or the powerful genius of Brooklyn Dreams, but it’s still worth seeking out, particularly if you are interested either in the story of a comic book writer trying to make it in the industry or in the culture-shock a man from Switzerl... Read More

Edge: Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut

Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

This year I read or reread my favorite Kurt Vonnegut books after a two-decade gap: The Sirens of Titan (1959), Mother Night (1961), Cat’s Cradle (1963), and Slaughterhouse-Five (1969). In these works, his trademark cynicism and resignation towards humanity’s recurrent vanity and folly was mitigated by his gallows humor and simple, unadorned prose. It’s a formula that r... Read More

The Queen of Attolia: Third time’s the charm

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen TurnerMegan Whalen Turner’s The Queen of Attolia, the second book in her THE QUEEN’S THIEF fantasy series, begins much the same as The Thief, the first book in this series: Eugenides (Gen) the thief is in prison. This time it is the Attolians who have captured him, but he’s made them, especially their queen, even more angry than he had the kingdom of Sounis in the first volume. From this similar beginning, however, the plot veers in some completely unexpected directions. Whalen Turner explained this in a Publisher’s Weekly interview:
I could have written a whole series about fun, cool, exciting thi... Read More

Working for Bigfoot: Three DRESDEN FILES novellas

Working for Bigfoot: Stories From the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

Most DRESDEN FILES fans probably didn’t know that one of Harry’s occasional clients is a Bigfoot named Strength of a River in His Shoulders. River has a half-human son named Irwin Pounder whom he has never met. Whenever River senses that Irwin needs help, he calls Harry Dresden, wizard for hire. So, in Working for Bigfoot, Jim Butcher gives us three novellas about three cases that Harry has worked for River. This is a welcome addition to the DRESDEN FILES, as fans wait for the next novel-length installment. It would also be a great introduction to Harry for those who aren’t familiar with Chicago’s greatest wizard.

In the first story, “B is for Bigfoot,” we witness the first meeting between Harry and River... Read More

Horrible Monday: Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

"To believe in one's dreams is to spend all of one's life asleep." – Chinese proverb

"Every city is a ghost." – Opening line of Lair of Dreams

Dreams become traps and deadly nightmares in Lair of Dreams, the second installation in Libba Bray’s DIVINERS fantasy horror series. In 1927, a crew of men is opening up an old walled-off tunnel underneath the streets of New York City in order to build a new subway tunnel. The workers find a desiccated body in a walled-off area. Soon the men begin to die of a mysterious sleeping sickness, where the afflicted cannot be awakened and die after a few days. The sickness is blamed on Chinese immigrants, but really it attacks people regardless of age or race.

Lair o... Read More

The Good, the Bad, and the Smug: Daring to disturb the universe

The Good, the Bad, and the Smug by Tom Holt

The Good, the Bad, and the Smug is the fourth novel in Tom Holt’s YOUSPACE series, following in the footsteps of Doughnut, When It’s a Jar, and The Outsourcerer’s Apprentice. Like those previous books, this one can be read as a stand-alone; there were recurring characters and running jokes which were enjoyable to this first-time reader, but which I suspect would have made more sense had I been more familiar with the rest of the series. Still, The Good, the Bad, and the Smug is a very pleasant way to spend a few afternoons.

Goblin King Mordak is shaking up the status quo with his kinder, more socialist, “humanitarian” brand of evil. (Working title:... Read More

MPH by Mark Millar and Duncan Fegredo

MPH by Mark Millar and Duncan Fegredo

Mark Millar knows how to tell a story, how to hook us with a plot, how to pace the events so that we feel as if we are in that perfect summer blockbuster we yearn for every year. He’s done it again in MPH, which he wrote with his co-creator and artist Duncan Fegredo and letterer and colorist Peter Doherty. I made the mistake of starting this story at midnight, and I could not put it down until I was done. I completely lost track of time.

MPH is the story of Roscoe, a young man with a vision and hope springing eternal, even though he’s a poor black man living a life with few legal opportunities in a physically and ec... Read More

The Price of Valor: Wexler’s strongest work so far

The Price of Valor by Django Wexler

Warning: May contain mild spoilers for the preceding books.

If The Shadow Throne combined war and politics, the amalgam of these elements Django Wexler presents in The Price of Valor is much more effective and well-balanced. The latest installment in THE SHADOW CAMPAIGNS, The Price of Valor sees our protagonists battle both militarily and politically for Vordan’s freedom. After the Sworn Church persuaded the nations of the world to declare war on Vordan, Vordan finds itself in an unenviable position — strained both in terms of finances and troops, with an unstable domestic political arena to boot! Though Janus is securing the border on one front, Vordan’s nemeses are closing in on another as Queen Raesini... Read More

The Three-Body Problem: Particle physics, the rise and fall of civilizations, and alien contact

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

The Three-Body Problem was first published in China back in 2008 and translated into English in 2014. It got a lot of attention and was put on the Hugo Award ballot this year when another author pulled out. Cixin Liu’s book has a lot going on and requires your full attention. So after listening to the audiobook during a trip to the East Coast I realized I couldn’t write a proper review, and decided to listen to it again. I’m glad I did, because this book is bursting with fascinating ideas about the rise and fall of civilizations, virtual-reality gaming, mind-blowing particle physics, the lonely life of scientists and intellectuals, the madness of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and alien contact as well.

This book is impossible to discuss without significant spoilers, so if y... Read More

Killing Pretty: Stark gives mainstream life a try, and fails brilliantly

Killing Pretty by Richard Kadrey

Killing Pretty is the seventh book in Richard Kadrey’s SANDMAN SLIM series. Barnes and Noble included this book on their list of series books you could start if you hadn’t read the earlier books, and I think this is true. The book is not a reboot by any means, but James Stark, who was known as Sandman Slim when he fought in the arena in Hell, does some ruminating about what his life in L.A. has been like the past few years, and savvy readers would have no real trouble catching on to the story.

At first, Killing Pretty is a little worrying, because it looks like Stark is going legit. He is an employee of a licensed private eye, Julie, who used to work for the Golden Vigil, a hybrid agency comprised of Homeland Security agents and heave... Read More

Whispers Underground: Urban fantasy at its best

Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch

For a policeman, Peter Grant is a terrible policeman. This might have something to do with the fact that he practices a method of policing known fondly amongst his co-workers as weird bollocks. Or that he recently hijacked an ambulance and crashed it into the River Thames. Or that the latest recruit to The Folly (the magical branch of the London Metropolitan Police) is already way better at magic than him.

Whispers Underground is the latest instalment of Ben Aaronovitch’s RIVERS OF LONDON series. Peter Grant is back (after crashing said ambulance at the end of Moon Over Soho) and on the trail of a killer. Art student James Gallagher has been found dead in a London Underground station and the London Met have det... Read More

FILM: The Invisible Woman: A true delight

The Invisible Woman directed by A. Edward Sutherland

In the original Invisible Man feature of 1933, a biochemist named Jack Griffin had gone homicidally mad after injecting himself with his newly devised invisibility serum, leading to his death at the hands of the British police. Featuring Claude Rains in his first screen role, it was a very serious film, with a bare minimum of humor. In 1940, Universal came out with its belated sequel, perhaps inevitably entitled The Invisible Man Returns. This film featured Vincent Price in his first horror role and was a marvelous follow-up, with only slightly more comedic content. Three more sequels would follow, and in the next, the series took an abrupt swerve into full-fledged out-and-out comedy, and with very pleasing results. The Invisible Woman was released on 12/27/40, although most sources cite the film as being a product of 1941. Featuring a first-rate cast, excellent special FX and a laff... Read More

The Diamond Age: Rough, but still a diamond

The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age is set in a near future that is unrecognizable in some ways and disturbingly familiar in other ways. Nations have dissolved and people now tend to congregate in tribes or “phyles” based upon their culture, race, beliefs or skills. Nanotechnology has upended society, and even the poorest people have access to matter compilers that create clothing, food and other items from a feed of molecules. Still, the lack of education and opportunities for the underclass has created a wide division between them and a wealthy phyle like the Neo-Victorians, who have adopted the manners and society of the British Victorian age.

John Hackworth is a brilliant nanotechnologist who lives with and works for the neo-Vict... Read More

Hannu Rajaniemi: Collected Fiction: Poetry merges with science

Hannu Rajaniemi: Collected Fiction by Hannu Rajaniemi

In his Collected Fiction of nearly twenty stories ranging from the micro style of Twitter fiction to a more traditional length, Hannu Rajaniemi displays a generally hopeful, but cautionary, view of humanity’s future and the rapid onslaught of technology. Of primary importance is the need to recognize the value of others amid the increasing electronic noise in which we all seem to live. Rajaniemi is a physicist with the heart of a poet (and vice-versa) who takes data packets, social networks, saunas, and the sea, and weaves them all together into completely unique experiences.

“Deus Ex Homine” features a God-plague which has taken over human minds and bodies. Genetically modified human soldiers fight them by riding around in living armor suits called “... Read More

The Birthgrave: Pretty good

The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee

Let me be clear: The Birthgrave has kind of a dumb plot. It’s repetitive, it’s all predicated on a prosaic twist that’s kept overly mysterious, and when the big reveal finally does come, it’s via one of the most blatant examples of deus ex machina I’ve ever seen. All the same, I’d still call this a good book. Maybe even a great one. That’s the magic of Tanith Lee: even her first novel, a work where she was clearly still working out her craft to an extent, feels like something you might find engraved on an ancient stone tablet under a forgotten prehistoric pyramid. She has remarkably rich prose, of course — it’s Tanith Lee, so that practically goes without saying — but she also makes the characters feel true in a way that so very few novelists can manage. The events ... Read More

The Icebound Land: Just as entertaining as the previous books

The Icebound Land by John Flanagan

I’m surprised by how much I’m enjoying John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series for middle grade / young adult readers. The Icebound Land is the third book and it’s just as charming as the previous books, The Ruins of Gorlan and The Burning Bridge. You need to read those books before beginning The Icebound Land, so expect spoilers for them in this review.

At the end of The Burning Bridge, Horace defeated Morgarath. (This both surprised and delighted me because Morgarath was a cliché and I was afraid that the series, which contains 12 books so far, was going to be a never-ending battle between the good guys and Morgarath. I’m so glad he’s gone!)... Read More

EDGE: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
by Natasha Pulley is a charming character-driven novel that is just the sort I often love. I didn’t quite fall all the way for this one, but I absolutely enjoyed it despite a few niggling complaints and happily recommend it.

The setting is London in the late 1800s, during a time of Fenian bombings that have set the city on edge. Nathaniel Steepleton is a telegrapher out of the Home Office who gets mixed up in the investigations all thanks to an incredibly intricate watch that was anonymous... Read More

The Burning Bridge: A little derivative, but I didn’t care

The Burning Bridge by John Flanagan

This review will contain minor spoilers for the previous book, The Ruins of Gorlan.

The Burning Bridge is the second book in John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series for middle grade readers. In the first book, The Ruins of Gorlan, we met Will, an orphaned boy who grew up as a ward of a baron in the country of Araluen. Thinking that his dead father was a warrior, he wanted to be one also, but instead he is assigned to be a Ranger’s apprentice. The Rangers, who Will knows very little about, are a secretive group of cloak-wearing men that serve the king and protect the kingdom. He doesn’t know it yet, but Will’s smaller stature, quick wit, and courage are perfect attributes for this profession. By the... Read More

Tuesdays at the Castle: I wish I could have read this when I was twelve

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George

Welcome to our newest reviewer, Tadiana Jones!

Though I enjoy some young adult fiction, I don't read many middle grade books at this point in my life unless my 12 year old really twists my arm. But the idea behind Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George (2011) just sounded so fun that I couldn't resist when I saw it on the library shelf. Its pages were waving to me, I swear!

Eleven year old Princess Celie and her royal family live in Castle Glower, which has a life and sometimes quirky opinions of its own and takes an interest in the affairs of the kingdom. Rooms and corridors appear and disappear, or move from one pa... Read More

Film Review: Creature With The Atom Brain

Creature With The Atom Brain: It should certainly stimulate YOUR amygdalae

Perhaps no other actor of the late 1940s throughout the ‘50s squared off against as many sci-fi monstrosities on screen as Poughkeepsie, NY-born Richard Denning. In 1948's Unknown Island, Denning battled a T. rex and other prehistoric nightmares; in Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954), he grappled with the most famous amphibian in cinema history; in Target Earth (also from '54), his problem was invading aliens and a humongous, lumbering robot; in The Day the World Ended (1955), it was a marauding mutant; and in 1957's The Black Scorpion, it was giant arachnids in a Mexican volcano. But 1954's "Gillman" was not the only title "creature" that Denning had to face, of course. In 1955's Creature With the Atom Brain (released in July of that year as part of a truly awesome double feature, paired with It Came... Read More

The Star Kings: Kan!!!!!!!

The Star Kings by Edmond Hamilton

Up until recently, my only familiarity with Ohio-born Edmond Hamilton had been via his short stories, and mainly through the exceptionally fine 1977 collection The Best of Edmond Hamilton. And indeed, who could ever forget such sci-fi tales as “The Man Who Evolved,” “Thundering Worlds,” “What’s It Like Out There?” and “Requiem”; such a charming fantasy as “He That Hath Wings”; and such well-done pieces of horror as “The Monster-God of Mamurth” (Hamilton’s first published story, which appeared in the 8/26 issue of Weird Tales when he was only 21) and the masterpiece “The Man Who Returned”? But Hamilton was also, of course, one of the originators of Golden Age space opera, with dozens such novellas and serials to his credit; indeed, his Captain Future tales would go on to appear in over a dozen volumes alo... Read More

Mother of Eden: Birth pangs of a new human civilization

Mother of Eden by Chris Beckett

Mother of Eden, Chris Beckett’s sequel to Dark Eden, was thoughtful, complicated, and engrossing. Starlight Brooking lives with her people, the almost monastic Kneefolk, on Knee Tree Ground, a secluded island on Eden, a planet dominated by water. The Kneefolk make their living by trading bark boats with a few of the settlements nearby and staying out of the way of either Johnsfolk or Davidfolk, the two dominant, antagonistic human civilizations on Eden (the story of which schism is told in the first book). Kneefolk are peaceful, democratic, and content — all except for Starlight, who is unhappy with the secluded nature of her life. Like many young protagonists at the beginning of their story, she itches for something bigger, feeling as though she is destined for more important things than just endless harvesting of bark and daily meditation o... Read More

Kitty and the Midnight Hour: A Denver DJ with a little extra bite

Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty Norville is a radio DJ that hosts a late night talk show about various paranormal topics. She often gets strange calls from the very subjects she talks about. She usually ends up giving out advice to these callers since they have very few options for advice available to them. As a werewolf herself, Kitty is in a unique position to dispense helpful information to those that need it. Her show became popular and that did not sit too well with some key players in her life. Her own pack was made jealous of her success and that created tension in the ranks that she is forced to deal with. Not to mention the vampires, werewolf hunters, and other denizens of the night she has managed to irritate with her openness of sensitive topics. All of these things make Kitty Norville’s life complicated and scary.

I’m a big fan of the Mercedes Thompson series by Read More

Spellcasting in Silk: Another great audio installment

Spellcasting in Silk by Juliet Blackwell

Think of Juliet Blackwell’s WITCHCRAFT MYSTERY series as paranormal cozy mysteries. Each stands alone and deals with a relatively non-gory murder committed by a seemingly upstanding member of the San Francisco Haight-Ashbury community where Lily Ivory owns a vintage clothing shop. Being a witch, Lily has some amateur detective skills that Carlos Romero, the handsome local homicide detective, finds helpful. In each installment, Lily, who can be a little nosey (as any amateur detective is), helps solve the case. As the series advances, new characters are added, Lily’s business grows, and her love life evolves. Although each murder mystery stands alone, I recommend reading the WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES in order so that you don’t miss Lily’s character development.

I would also highly (highly!) recommend that you read these in audio format, even if you’re ... Read More

Slow Bullets: Small, but packs a punch

Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

Slow Bullets
is the latest addition to Alastair Reynolds’ impressive body of work, a slim novella which he manages to fill with plausible far-future technology, interstellar war, and questions of identity and legacy.

Scurelya “Scur” Timsuk Shunde is a soldier for the Peripheral Systems, which are at war with the Central Worlds. One of the central points of conflict are the Books which each side holds sacred; while never explicitly named, the Books share several common tenets, and are clearly religious in nature. This war has gone on for a long time, ranging across countless star systems, but a ceasefire has finally been declared. Of course, after extended periods of conflict, it can be difficult to convince people that peace has been achieved. Orvin, a vicious war criminal who is wanted by both sides, captures Scur and implants a modified “slow bu... Read More