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Empire: A tense, can’t-put-it-down adventure

Empire by John Connolly & Jennifer Ridyard

(Warning, may contain spoilers for Conquest.)

Empire, by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard, is filled with action, suspense, and characters we care about. It is YA but adults will enjoy it.

In Conquest, the first book of THE CHRONICLES OF THE INVADERS, Earth had been conquered by a technologically superior race, the Illyri. Syl, a young woman, was the first Illyrian born on Earth. Paul Kerr was a member of Earth’s Resistance movement. Fate threw these two unlikely lovers together, but their commitment goes beyond their feelings for each other. Paul and Syl uncovered a conspiracy by a parasitic alien race that is controlling many of the Illyrians. Now, in Empire, Read More

Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology: An examination of what defines the genre

Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology edited by Bruce Sterling

There are a handful of people who have/had their finger on the pulse of cyberpunk. Love him or hate him, Bruce Sterling has perhaps two. In 1986 he decided to pull together a collection of stories he felt were representative of the sub-genre. Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology is both broad in scope yet largely encompasses the idea of what the average sci-fi fan's expectations are for the form. Though Sterling’s agenda is his own, some stories will be immediately recognizable for their mood and voice, while others will require more thought toward determining just how they fit into the sub-genre, if at all. The following is a brief introduction to each.

"The Gernsback Continuum" by William Gib... Read More

The Magicians’ Guild: A simple but engaging story of class conflict

The Magicians’ Guild by Trudi Canavan

The first installment of Trudi Canavan’s THE BLACK MAGICIAN trilogy, The Magicians’ Guild is the story of a young girl, Sonea, who discovers that she possesses magical abilities. As a lower class street girl living in the slums of the imaginary city of Imardin with her aunt and uncle, Sonea’s life has been one of destitution and hatred of the city’s snobbish upper class. Every year, the magicians of Imardin hold a Purge, during which they sweep the streets of Imardin in an attempt to eliminate beggars and vagabonds. Unsurprisingly, the masses of Imardin have never been particularly taken up with the idea, so one day, Sonea, burning with loathing of the Magicians’ Guild, throws a rock at a thaumaturge. Protected by magical shields, the magicians of Imardin never expected to be in ... Read More

Black Sun Rising: Unique worldbuilding and science fantasy

Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman

Black Sun Rising is the first novel in C.S. Friedman’s popular COLDFIRE trilogy. I read Dominion, the prequel novella, a couple of years ago after reading (and loving) several of her science fiction novels. I admire Friedman’s worldbuilding and her writing style.

The COLDFIRE trilogy feels like traditional epic fantasy, but it would best be categorized as science fantasy because it takes place in the far future on Erna, a planet colonized by humans looking for a habitable world. When they got to this world, they discovered that natural laws work differently. Some force, which they call the “Fae,” feeds on human fears and uses those “vibes” (my word) to influence evolution. This means, for example, that creatures that aren’t r... Read More

Magi’i of Cyador: Excellent politics, worldbuilding, and familiar characters

Magi'i of Cyador by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

The nice things about L.E. Modesitt Jr.'s long-running RECLUCE series is that once you are familiar with the timeline you can reread them in pretty much any order you like. There are never more than two books with the same main character. Mind you, for the first read-through, publication order is still the best order to read them as Modesitt refines his Order/Chaos-based system of magic over time. Once in a while I reread one of these books; I call this my random RECLUCE rereads. All of the early RECLUCE books are written from the Black, Ordermage side of things. Starting from the 8th book onwards (The White Order) Modesitt changes the series around on the reader and writes four books with a focus on White (Chaos) oriented characters. These are some of th... Read More

The Demolished Man: The first Hugo Award winner

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

If I had read The Demolished Man back in 1952 when it was first published, I would have given it 5 stars, no question. But in 2014, with 60 years of refinements in the genre, it suffers from some very dated dialogue and characterization, and some really condescending portrayals of women. I'm afraid the present value of the book is 4 stars.

Having said that, The Demolished Man remains an impressively-imagined story of a future society shared by telepaths and normals, and the attempt by wealthy megalomaniac industrialist Ben Reich to stage and get away with murder in a society where the police and many others can read thoughts and memories. It's an exciting and pulpy adventure, and presages the cyberpunk genre by over 30 years (William Gibson’s Neuromancer Read More

Evensong: A slow start with a fantastic payoff

Evensong by John Love

In early 2012, John Love made some serious waves with his debut novel Faith, a critically acclaimed space opera that was about as dark as anything I’d read in the genre. Faith was a novel many reviewers expected to see on Best-of-2012 lists and final award ballots, but instead it disappeared without much noise at all. Whether that was due to the novel’s admittedly disturbing content, or its early January release date, or the fact that all of this happened in the early days of Night Shade Books’ well-documented collapse, no one knows.

So now it’s early 2015, and John Love’s second novel Evensong just came out in early January, almost three years to the date since Faith Read More

Annabel Scheme: A short, clever high-tech thriller

Annabel Scheme by Robin Sloan

Set in an alternate world in which Google's place is filled by a company called Grail (a brilliant name for a search engine, by the way), and Wikipedia's by "Open Britannica," Robin Sloan’s Annabel Scheme is difficult to categorize. Is it a detective novel? An urban fantasy? A technothriller with a touch of cyberpunk? It's all of those at once. It reminds me a little of Charles Stross's LAUNDRY FILES novels with the mix of high technology and demons.

Annabel Scheme is narrated by an AI in the Watson role, observing events through detective Annabel Scheme's high-tech earrings. That's clever, because the point of view follows Scheme and yet isn't her POV. It also means, though, that t... Read More

Lone Wolf and Cub: Lanterns for the Dead by Kazuo Koike

Lone Wolf and Cub (Vol. 6): Lanterns for the Dead by Kazuo Koike

The Lone Wolf and Cub series is well-known for the amount of research that went into allowing a lifelike picture of the historical era to be faithfully presented. This definitely adds to my enjoyment of the series, but added to this is the fact that while each individual story is generally self-contained there is a wider story arc that informs each of them both within and across volumes. Best of all is when specific details from previous tales make their way into later installments and not only add to the full picture we see, but show how Ogami Itto and Daigoro are growing and changing as they follow their bloody quest.

“Lanterns for the Dead”: One of the things I really like about the Lone Wolf and Cub series is the inside view it gives to the many facets of Tokugawa-era Japan. In this story we see a little bit... Read More

Book Chat: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Hi all. We thought we’d try something a little different around here. When Jana said she was planning on reading The Martian Chronicles, I mentioned I’d been thinking lately about rereading some Ray Bradbury and wondered about maybe having a little conversation about the shared experience. Nothing formal, no particular goals or constraints, not a shared review as we’ve done in the past — just a pair of readers bouncing some reactions off each other. So here it is. Let us know what you think about this idea/format going forward (sometimes it might be two readers, sometimes it might be a half-dozen of us chatting) — is this something you’d like to see more of? 

Bill Capossere: I can’t recall which Bradbury title it was I... Read More

Pacific Edge: Visions of a high-maintenance upotia

Pacific Edge by Kim Stanley Robinson

Where The Wild Shore shows us a post-apocalyptic California and The Gold Coast deals with future where urbanisation is out of control, in Pacific Edge Kim Stanley Robinson explores a utopian future: a California where people have learned to listen to the land and to pursue more sustainable population levels and economic activity. Together, these three books make up the THREE CALIFORNIAS TRIPTYCH.

In 2065 the world looks quite different from what we are used to. The unsustainable economic practices of the past have been severely curtailed by putting limits on company size and personal income among other, equally drastic measures. The main character is Kevin, an architect judging from the descriptions of designing lovely s... Read More

The Girl In The Red Coat: Chillingly compulsive

The Girl In The Red Coat by Kate Hamer

Any mother’s worst nightmare is losing her child. We’ve all heard it before. It’s a phrase used often, almost casually, yet it doesn’t even begin to cover what it must actually feel like to lose a child. This is precisely what happens in Kate Hamer’s dazzling debut. Told from the perspectives of a bereft mother and her abducted daughter, The Girl in the Red Coat has two of the most hauntingly distinctive voices in fiction so far this year. It will have you turning pages in horrified awe until you’ve reached the last page in one sitting.

Carmel Wakeford has always been a slightly fey girl, often getting lost or wandering off on her own. Her single mother, Beth, recently divorced from Carmel’s father, has always suspected her daughter was slightly...different. She’d also always had an unnatural fear that she would lose Carmel. ... Read More

Small Gods: A nice message and some smartypants good fun

Small Gods by Sir Terry Pratchett

Small Gods was the first DISCWORLD book I read, and it made me love the series. I reread it recently, and, allowing for certain themes that repeat in all the DISCWORLD books, I found I still enjoyed it. Pratchett delivers a message on the nature of hypocrisy, fanaticism and faith, with lots of smartypants good fun along the way.

Brutha is a novice at the Temple of the Great God Om. While Brutha is a hard worker and a well-meaning lad, he neither reads nor writes and he’s kind of a simple soul. Only two things make Brutha different; an amazing memory, and an unalloyed, bright-burning belief in the Great God Om. These two things will make him the most important person in Discworld… at least to Om.

The Great God Om is usually depicted as a huge bull, so when Brutha finds him in the temple garden the form of a tortoise, he ... Read More

A Darker Shade of Magic: A well-written, well-executed story in an intriguing setting

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 parallel Londons: Red London, a vibrant, colorful city where magic and life are in balance; White London, a crue... Read More

A Darker Shade of Magic: Twists and turns through multiple worlds

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

V. E. Schwab teased that A Darker Shade of Magic would include cross-dressing thieves, (aspiring) pirates, sadist kings and queens and epic magicky fight scenes, so it is perhaps surprising that the story opens with… an old coat. But this is not just any coat: it’s a coat with more sides than even its owner can keep track of. If Kell turns it inside out, it can change from a shabby disguise to a beautifully embroidered jacket, to more versions of itself than he knows. It enables him to pass seamlessly through different Londons: Grey and Red and White and Black, four parallel cities that will soon all be in danger of collapsing.

Kell is an Antari, a rare and coveted magician with the ability to travel between the different Londons. There is Grey London, bleak and without magic, ruled by a blind old king. Red London, Kell’s home city, wh... Read More

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