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Bandersnatch: The Inklings as writers group

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Bandersnatch by Diana Pavlac Glyer

Diana Pavlac Glyer abridged her academic book The Company They Keep and published the abridgement as Bandersnatch. In it, she studies the Oxford circle of writers and thinkers that included J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams through the lens of a creative community. Glyer chose the title Bandersnatch from of a quote by C.S. Lewis about Tolkien, that “No-one ever influenced Tolkien — you might as well try to influence a Bandersnatch.” In fact, the book goes on to explore in depth just how deeply and broadly Tolkien was influenced by the Inklings and by the creative currents that swirled around the group. T... Read More

Infomocracy: Election-year politics in the future (or: some things never change)

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Infomocracy by Malka Older

In the latter half of the twentieth century, most of the world (a few areas like Saudi Arabia excepted) has moved to a form of government called micro-democracy. The world is divided into "centenals" of about 100,000 people each, and each centenal votes for its own separate government. The political party that wins control of the most centenals wins the Supermajority, which gives that party additional political clout and power, although the specific details of that Supermajority power aren’t entirely clear. There are dozens, if not more, political parties, though only about a dozen have worldwide clout. Parties are based on all types of factors: aspects of identity (like race, nationality or religion), a particular view of policy, the importance of military might, loyalty to a particular large corporation, etc... Read More

The Fall: Worthy sequel delivers on dark and weighty promise of The Strain

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The Fall by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan
Authors Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan move the world of their apocalyptic vampire saga to a darker place in the second of their STRAIN trilogy, The Fall. This second volume is short, at less than 300 pages, and makes for a satisfying companion when read back-to-back with the first in the trilogy, The Strain. I will reference some spoilers to The Strain below, since this is a series that needs to be read in chronological order.
The sunset of humankind is the dawn of the blood harvest.
At the end of The Strain, our primary players, pawnbroker/professor/vampire-hu... Read More

The Strain: del Toro builds modern mythology on top of old-school vampire horror

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The Strain by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan

Abraham Setrakian had witnessed and survived horrible evil when he was a young man. He’d made it out of a Nazi death camp in Poland, but the horror brought about by the Germans was not what kept the professor awake at night. It was the Stroigoi — the vampire — he’d seen feed on his camp mates. It was this that haunted Setrakian. And now it was time for revenge.
What he saw before him was not an omen — it was an incursion. It was the act itself. The thing he had been waiting for. That he had been preparing for. All his life until now.
The Strain, the first book in THE STRAIN trilogy, is a very good modern vampire horror story. There are no moody teenagers battling hormones and vampire/werewolf love triangles. Renowned movie icon Guillermo del Toro and author Chuc... Read More

A Hundred Thousand Worlds: An ambitious and successful debut

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A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl

There’s a lot to like in Bob Proehl’s debut novel, A Hundred Thousand Worlds, and if the author occasionally tries a little too hard or the book suffers a bit in trying to cover its audience bases, the end result remains a heartfelt coming of age story set amidst the fondly but realistically portrayed world of comic book writers/artists and convention goers.

The story follows a mother and son (Valerie and Alex, respectively) as they drive from NYC to LA to reunite Alex with his long-separated father, Andrew Rhodes, though Alex does not know this at the start of their trip. Years ago, Val and Andrew had co-starred on a fan-favorite sci-fi show entitled Anomaly, and why Val left the show, Andrew, and LA — and why she is now returning six years later — is slowly revealed as she and Alex cross ... 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

Princess of Glass: The twelve dancing princesses tangle with Cinderella

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Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George

Three years after they have solved the problem of the evil underground King of Stone and his twelve sons in Princess of the Midnight Ball (or have they?), the king of Westfalin and his twelve daughters are still dealing with the aftermath. Some of the girls are suffering from PTSD, and the rulers of neighboring kingdoms are still bitter about the loss of their princes and other young men who died while trying to figure out the mystery of the dancing princesses in the first book. So the king of Westfalin institutes a type of exchange program, sending his daughters to other countries for extended stays with their royal families, to try to repair the relations with them and perhaps even to form some helpful alliances through marriages.

Princess of Glass follows one of the younger sisters, Poppy, now 1... Read More

The Sapphire Cutlass: A dangerous cult hides in the Indian jungle

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The Sapphire Cutlass by Sharon Gosling

The Sapphire Cutlass is exactly the kind of fun YA romp I was hoping for when I started the DIAMOND THIEF series. The characters seem comfortable in their roles, the adventure is exotic, and the stakes are surprisingly high. Sharon Gosling seems to have hit her stride here, rewarding readers with equal measures of romance and action in a well-balanced novel.

Rémy Brunel, Thaddeus Rec, J, and orphaned moppet Dita have flown in their ruby-powered airship all the way from France to India. They seek many things: the location of J’s mentor Desai, information about a cult known as the Sapphire Cutlass, and the truth regarding Rémy’s “one true twin” brother, about whom she knows absolutely nothing. What they find... Read More

Downbelow Station: Machiavellian intrigue in space

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Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh

I’ve had C.J. Cherryh's 1982 Hugo Award winner Downbelow Station on my TBR list for three decades, and was glad I finally got around to it via Audible Studios, ably narrated by Brian Troxell. It’s an intense, claustrophobic, gritty space opera with a huge cast of hard-nosed characters battling to survive the Machiavellian intrigues of freelance Merchanters, Earth bureaucrats, Company fleet captains, Pell station administrators, Union space forces, secret agents, stationers, and (incongruously) cuddly Downer aliens. It's a big, complex story, and not easy to follow on audio, but well worth the effort. I emphasize the word effort, because it takes some serious concentration to keep track of all the moving pieces, and Cherryh’s tough, muscular prose a... Read More

The Last Mortal Bond: Brings a good series to a fitting close

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The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley

I had a mixed response to the first book in Brian Staveley's trilogy, The Emperor's Blades, but thought book two, Providence of Fire, was a big improvement, boding well for the future of the series. That optimism was borne out, as the final book, The Last Mortal Bond, though perhaps not quite as consistently good as Providence, continues to deepen the themes and characters, bringing the trilogy to a happily satisfying conclusion. I'm going to assume you've read the first two books and won't bother recapping who people ... Read More

The Oxford Inklings: The influence of a circle of friends

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The Oxford Inklings by Colin Duriez

J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis had an influence on modern fiction, especially speculative fiction, that is still felt to this day. In their prime, at Oxford, they saw themselves as champions of myth and meaning, bringing back the “old Western” literary values, elevating myth and “fairy stories” into a place of prominence in an academic world that was increasingly valuing modernism. The two friends surrounded themselves with British writers and thinkers of the time, a group they nick-named the Inklings, and that group’s influence on the writing of the time still cannot be calculated. The Inklings capture our imaginations just as deftly as LORD OF THE RINGS or Out of the Silent Planet... Read More

Brain Wave: A fascinating idea

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Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

Brain Wave by Poul Anderson

Poul Anderson’s Brain Wave has a great premise — for millennia, unknown to scientists, the Earth has been under the influence of some sort of field that dampens the speed of neurons in the cortex. But now the Earth has suddenly passed out of the field and immediately neurons start working faster, making everyone’s IQs (man and animal) escalate dramatically. This sounds like a good thing to me, but perhaps it’s not in Poul Anderson’s mind. In his story, human civilization changes drastically, and mostly not in positive ways.

The story follows several characters: a physicist named Peter Corinth; Sheila, his timid and dull-witted housewife; a mentally-handicapped farmhand named Archie Brock; and an official named Felix Mandelbaum. Each of these characters experiences a large jump in IQ w... Read More

The City of Mirrors: A long fitting conclusion to an excellent trilogy

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Reposting to include Jason's new review:

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

The lengthy journey from Justin Cronin’s vampire apocalypse The Passage comes to a full conclusion (and maybe a bit more) in the third and final book, The City of Mirrors. If The Passage was absolutely great (and it really, really was), and the sequel The Twelve was good but not quite as, mostly due to it feeling much more its length than the first book did, then The City of Mirrors falls somewhere in between, though my guess is that some will react more negatively to a few of its elements than I did. It’s impossible to discuss this final book without spoilers for books one and two, so fair warning. Also, I’m going to assume you’ve read the first two books and so won... Read More

The Moon and the Sun: A lush, award-winning fantasy that holds up today

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The Moon and the Sun by Vonda N. McIntyre

In 1998, Vonda McIntyre’s sumptuous fantasy The Moon and the Sun won the Nebula award for Best Novel. Set in the court of King Louis the XIV of France, this fantastical alternate history asks questions about the nature of humanity, divine right, and the power of belief systems, whether those are religious or philosophical. Science versus religion is also an element, and a pointed one. Along the way, McIntyre shares tidbits about music, art, “natural science,” and fashion. It’s a dense book, stuffed with characters, ideas and detailed descriptions.

The two main characters are Marie-Josephe de la Croix, a young colonial woman who has come to court after a stay in a convent, and Lucien de Barenton, a noble, a dwarf and a f... Read More

The Story of Kullervo: One for the completists/diehard fans only

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The Story of Kullervo by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited and annotated by Verlyn Flieger)

Over the past few years we’ve seen several releases of J.R.R. Tolkien’s retellings of ancient tales combined with scholarly notes/lectures by him: The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, The Fall of Arthur, and Beowulf. At some point (for all I know, we’ve already reached it) the posthumously published material is going to be greater than what appeared in his lifetime. I have no idea how he himself would react to that, but as a fan, I’m pretty much in the “keep ‘em comin’” mode. The newest one is The Story of Kullervo, edited and annotated by Verlyn Flieger, and it falls more to the side of the Arthurian ... Read More

The Twelve: Thrilling sequel expands epic story and mythology

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The Twelve by Justin Cronin

Justin Cronin’s 2010 apocalyptic-vampire thriller, The Passage, debuted in the midst of the mass consumer love affair with the weird and supernatural. In the evolution of the vampire in pop culture, Anne Rice turned Bram Stoker’s blood-sucking villain into a romantic lead. Stephenie Meyer morphed Lestat into a high school heart-throb. Justin Cronin pulled the genre up and out of its romanticized and stagnating plateau to give the publishing world something more epic, more poignant, more ... genuine.

The Passage was a runaway success, though it left readers wanting more and hun... Read More

Archangel, Issue One, by William Gibson and Michael St. John Smith

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 Archangel, Issue One, by William Gibson and Michael St. John Smith, Illustrated by Butch Guice

I kept my head down as I moved through the crowd. This mission was a total Hail Mary, two agents-in-place improvising because we had to work fast. Fankind risked his cover even talking to HQ, but if the intel was right, if he had what we thought he had… “Archangel, Issue One, by William Gibson,” he had said. “This could change everything.”

Rumors were only rumors, of course, but as I pretended an interest in the Cruisin’ The Main Drag Car Parade I couldn’t help, just for a few seconds, but dream. The first original comic co-writt... Read More

Fall of Light: Takes a while to get going, but rewards the patient reader

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Fall of Light by Steven Erikson

OK, look. I’m just going to put it on the table early on. I had a tough time with the beginning of Steven Erikson’s Fall of Light. And by “beginning,” I mean the first 150-200 of its 800-plus pages. It wasn’t just the pace (though it was admittedly more than a little slow). Or all the new characters (though really, one wonders at some point how many Tiste we haven’t met, not to mention Jaghut, Azathanai, Jhelken, Dragons, etc.). Or that there was a lot of table-setting going on (though given how book one had spent a good chunk of its 600 pages laying out the plates and silverware and glasses, I confess I’d expected the food to come a lot more quickl... Read More

The Keeper of the Mist: A quietly charming traditional YA fantasy

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The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier

Kerianna, the illegitimate daughter of the dissolute, ailing Lord of the country of Nimmira and a former serving girl, is a baker in the town of Glassforge who prides herself on the quality of her wedding cakes and other baked goods. It’s a struggling business, and Keri has to run it by herself since the death of her mother, but it’s modestly successful and Keri has hopes for the future.

Rule over Nimmira passes from parent to child, along with the magical power that enables the Lord or Lady of Nimmira to maintain the magical mists that hide the entire country from the powerful countries around it that would quickly take over Nimmira, if they only knew of its existence. Though Keri has daydreams of being the next ruler and fixing the problems of Nimmira, she, like everyone else in the country, expects leadership to fall to one of her three ol... Read More

The Healer’s War: Harrowing tale of a Vietnam combat nurse

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The Healer’s War by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

This is another Nebula winner I’ve had on the shelf ever since it was published in 1998, but hadn’t got around to reading. So when I found an audio version on Audible narrated by Robin Miles, one of my favorite female narrators after listening to N.K. Jemisin’s phenomenal The Fifth Season, that was enough to pull it to the top of my TBR list. Elizabeth Ann Scarborough is mostly known as a writer of humorous fantasy novels, along with several collaborations with Anne McCaffrey, so it was quite a surprise to discover that she was a combat nurse in Vietnam, and The ... Read More

Zero K: I’ll take a second-tier DeLillo any year

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Zero K by Don DeLillo

Don DeLillo, I’ve found, is one of those authors that splits readers down the middle. For myself, I definitely and whole-heartedly fall into the fan camp, with White Noise and Underworld being two of my favorite all-time novels, and Mao II and Libra not far behind. His newest, Zero K, doesn’t rise to their level (most novels don’t), but it is still classic DeLillo, filled with great sentences, dialog that sounds less like real people talking and more like a pair of students work-shopping their dissertations (one of the reasons he tends to split readers), cool musings on the intersection of technology and modern culture, and explorations of wealth, violent (almost apocalyptic) events, the modern senses of dislocation and isolation,... Read More

Teaching the Dog to Read: A surreal trip

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Teaching the Dog to Read by Jonathan Carroll

Anthony Areal, a forgettable, average man, trending toward wet noodle, is astonished one day to receive an anonymous gift in the mail containing the watch of his dreams: a gorgeous $9,000 Lichtenberg ‘Figure’ wristwatch. For a few minutes he’s afraid it is a dream: the watch will probably disappear or turn into a pumpkin when he touches it. But the watch stays on Tony’s arm when he puts it there, and it’s followed a week later by his fantasy car, an $80,000 gray Porsche Cayman GTS, registered in his name. Tony is delighted. His co-workers are astounded. Lena Schabort, the office temptress, suddenly reevaluates Tony’s worth, personal as well as net.

When Tony meets his benefactor, it is the “night shift” version of Tony himself, who lives in Tony's dreams and can in some measure actually direct and control those... Read More

Time and Again: A leisurely tribute to 1882 New York

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Time and Again by Jack Finney

Jack Finney’s Time and Again (1970) has been a long-time favorite among time-travel tales, and has remained in print since its first publication. It was also selected by David Pringle for his Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels. Since I’ve been on a time-travel trip lately, this was a must-listen. It’s narrated well by Paul Hecht, and is a long, leisurely, and loving tribute to the long-gone New York of the 1880s. Sure, there are some token mentions of poverty among the lower classes, diseases like polio, pocked faces, coal-fired factories spewing smoke, and Horatio Alger street kids scrabbling to survive. But the vast majority of the story is unabashed nostalgia for a more humane time, before modern life had crushed the spirit of man. It also features more rapturous detail... Read More

Blood and Bone: One of the best in this series

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Blood and Bone by Ian Cameron Esslemont

Blood and Bone is the penultimate book of Ian Cameron Esslemont’s main MALAZAN EMPIRE series (I say “main” because he has just begun a prequel trilogy) and while it has its issues, it easily ranks in my top three of the main series’ six titles thanks to a few well-drawn characters and, especially, thanks to its relatively unique setting.

That setting is the jungles of Jacuruku, one of the as-yet-unexplored continents of the Malazan universe. The continent is mostly split in half, with one side under the dominion of a group of sorcerers known as Thaumaturgs and the other half, referred to as “Himatan,” is ruled by the powerful and mysterious Ardata, worshipped by some as a goddess and by others a... Read More

The Moon Pool: Exciting and accessible to modern readers

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Reposting to include Sandy's new review:

The Moon Pool by Abraham Merritt

Abraham Merritt’s The Moon Pool was originally published as two stories in All-Story Weekly (“The Moon Pool” and “Conquest of the Moon Pool”) and combined into a novel in 1919. Its copyright has expired, so you can find it at Project Gutenberg or as a free Kindle e-book at Amazon.

The Moon Pool is supposedly a layperson’s account (transcribed by Abraham Merritt) of Dr. Walter T. Goodwin’s exploration of the ancient ruins of Nan Madol in the South Pacific. ... Read More