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The Next Species: Examining humanity’s past and potential future

The Next Species by Michael Tennesen

The Next Species: The Future of Evolution in the Aftermath of Man, by Michael Tennesen, is an engaging, informative overview of the history of life on this planet and humanity’s impact on that life (mostly for ill), followed by a look into the future and what might happen were humanity to go extinct or diverge into a different species.

He begins with a trip to the rain forest in the Andes, cataloging the rich diversity of life in the relatively small area (“The tropical Andes contain about a sixth of the world’s plant life in less than 1 percent of its land area... more than 1,724 species of birds in an area the size of New Hampshire”) and segues from this richness to a discussion of the consensus belief that we are in the midst of a sixth great extinction.

Over the course of The Next Species, he details those other extinctions, ... Read More

Tarzan of the Apes: A very fine introduction to the original swinger

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Three years ago, the character of Tarzan celebrated his 100th birthday. Making his initial appearance in the October 1912 issue of All-Story Magazine, in the original Tarzan novel Tarzan of the Apes, Edgar Rice Burroughs' creation proved to be so popular that the author went on to create 25 more novels featuring the jungle swinger. Released in book form two years later, the novel is a perfect introduction to the character who has been called the best-known fictional creation of the 20th century. Like many others, my only previous familiarity with Tarzan was via the Johnny Weissmuller films of the '30s and '40s — all dozen of them — and, to a lesser degree, those featuring Bruce Bennett, Buster Crabbe, Lex Barker and Gordon Scott (I have never gotten a chance to see the... Read More

Tales of The Dying Earth: A perfect introduction to Jack Vance’s work

Tales of The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

Note: This is a review of the omnibus edition of Vance's DYING EARTH series. The individual novels are The Dying Earth (1950), The Eyes of the Overworld (1966), Cugel’s Saga (1983) and Rhialto the Marvellous (1984).

There aren’t any other books in SF/Fantasy quite like Jack Vance’s Tales of The Dying Earth. They have had an enormous influence on writers ranging from Gene Wolfe and George R.R. Martin to Gary Gygax, the creator of Read More

Wyrd Sisters: Fun and Endearing

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

Wyrd Sisters is a fun, lively book. It’s definitely a bit on the light side compared to some of Pratchett’s later works – more parody and less satire, if you like – but there’s nothing wrong with a jocular, easy-going read. Indeed, while it perhaps lacks something of the punch one might find in Mort or Small Gods, this installment is probably one of the better entry points for DISCWORLD, readable and endearing.

This is of course especially true if you’re a Shakespeare fan, in which case Wyrd Sisters easily eclipses Guards! Guards! as the definitive Square One for the series. As hinted by the title, Wyrd Sisters is basically Pratchett’s parody of Shakespearean theater (specifically MacBeth, ... Read More

Acceptance: Easy to admire, hard to love

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

(Warning, this review may contain spoilers for the two previous SOUTHERN REACH books, Annihilation and Authority.)

If the reader believes the best theory put forth by the characters in Acceptance, the final book in Jeff VanderMeer’s SOUTHERN REACH trilogy, then it is the most original use of a certain standard SF trope that I’ve ever read. I do choose to believe the theory because it fits most of the... well, information — I can’t really use the word “facts” — we are given and because the author appears to confirm the theory later in the book.

That said, while Acceptance has rich, layered prose, strange, startling imagery and a... Read More

The Sirens of Titan: An early Vonnegut classic about the randomness of life

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

The Sirens of Titan is a tough book to review. And it’s not really SF at all though it adopts the trappings of the genre. The thing about Kurt Vonnegut’s books is that they are so deceptively simple. The prose is spare, humorous, ironic, and to the point. And yet the story is very ambitious, as it seeks to provide answers to some very basic questions. Why do we exist? What is the universe for? Do we have any free will to determine our lives? Should we have chicken or fish for dinner?

The story focuses on Malachi Constant, the richest man in America; Winston Niles Rumfoord, an older wealthy man who travels throughout the solar system with his dog Kazak, manifesting in various locations in space and time; Unk and Boaz, two buddies in the Martian Army preparing to invade the ... Read More

The Lost Continent: Possibly the finest novel of Atlantis ever written

The Lost Continent by C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne

The Lost Continent first appeared serially in the English publication Pearson's Magazine in 1899, and in book form the following year. The author, C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne, is not exactly a household name today, but, way back when, was an extremely popular and prolific writer. His serialized tales of Captain Kettle, also in Pearson's, were supposedly only second in popularity to the Strand Magazine's Sherlock Holmes stories, as submitted by Arthur Conan Doyle. But today, Hyne's reputation seems to rest solely on this wonderful novel of the last years of the continent of Atlantis.

The history of these final years is told by the soldier-priest Deucalion, who, at the book's opening, has just been recalled from his 20-year viceroyalty of the Atlantean province of Yucatan. On his return to his homeland, after that two-dec... Read More

SAGA Volume Two, Issues 7-12

SAGA Volume Two, Issues 7-12 by Brian K. Vaughan (author) & Fiona Staples (illustrator)

Well, this series is still going strong… lots of fun and highly recommended!

This time around we get a glimpse into what filled young Marko with such hatred for the Landfallians (hint: mom and dad might have had something to do with it), Alana gets to meet the in-laws (umm, gulp), and we get to see the first meeting between our two love-birds (hey, Marko only lost one tooth by the looks of it!)… oh yeah and Marko’s former fiancée arrives on the scene to team up with one of the Freelancers sent to kill him and his wife.

This story is just full of awkward moments, isn’t it?

I have to say I think one of this series’ strengths is the way that Vaughan manages to make all of the characters interesting. None of the stories are ones I want to skip over, whether it’s The Will and Gwendolyn attempting the rescue of ... Read More

Bring the Jubilee: A brilliant alternative history where the South prevailed

Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore

Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee is a fairly obscure alternate-history story published in 1953 in which the South won the "War for Southron Independence." In this world, Robert E. Lee succeeds Jefferson Davis as the second president of the Confederacy in 1865. The Confederacy steadily expands its empire through Mexico and South America. Its chief rival is the German Union, which splits control of Europe with the Spanish Empire. In response, the Confederacy has allied with Great Britain, creating two opposing empires that straddle the Atlantic.

Strangely enough, slavery was abolished but minorities continue to face persecution, and poverty is rampant in the United States, the former Union states of the North. Other than a rich landowner minority, most people are indentured to their owners, effectively a form of slavery. In addition, the combustible engine, l... Read More

Men, Martians and Machines: Proto-“Trek”

Men, Martians and Machines by Eric Frank Russell

More than four decades before Capt. Jean-Luc Picard and his mixed crew of Earthlings, aliens and android made their initial appearance in Star Trek: The Next Generation, English author Eric Frank Russell was charming readers with his tales of a similarly composed starship crew. Russell (1905 – ’78) had been a contributor to John W. Campbell’s seminal Astounding Science-Fiction magazine since 1937, when it was simply called Astounding Stories (Campbell would, years later, name Russell as his favorite science fiction author, which is quite a statement, considering all the many great writers whom editor Campbell fostered during the genre’s Golden Age!), and in 1941 contributed the first of four stories that would ultimately be collected into the volume appropriately titled Men, Martians and Machines. The collection was init... Read More

The Invisible Man: Not someone you want to piss off

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

The Invisible Man (1897) is a story known by most people, but how many have actually read the book? It’s probably a lot darker and action-packed than you think. Also, like most of H.G. Wells’ books, it is not long and is available free as an e-book, so it’s well worth a day’s reading time.

Imagine you are an ambitious but poor young medical student named Griffin, eager to make a name for yourself and enjoy success. What if you were to discover how to change the refractive index of the human body (tested first on an unfortunate cat), to make your body completely invisible? W... Read More

The Grace of Kings: A rich reward for the patient reader

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

The Grace of Kings
, by Ken Liu, is a book that took a good deal warming up to for me, so much so that I considered giving it up multiple times through the first few hundred pages. Seriously considered giving it up. The episodic structure, which I’m generally not a fan of just as a matter of personal taste, was off-putting and distant, while both the characters and the plot felt more than a little flat. So the idea of continuing on for another 500 and then 400 pages in the same vein was not all that enticing.

But there was something about it that kept me from just shutting it all down. Partially it was the sense that while the structure was off-putting, it also had a sense of deliberateness to it that left me more open to seeing where the author was going. Another reason was if at times the narrative felt like linked short stories, several of them were quite... Read More

The Lathe of Heaven: Dreaming of Utopia

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin

When George Orr sleeps, he sometimes has “effective” dreams that alter reality. Believing that he has no right to effect such changes, George begins taking drugs to suppress the dreams. As the drugs lose their efficacy, George ups the dosage, exceeding legal limits. George is caught and ordered to choose between therapy and asylum. He chooses therapy and is sent to Dr. William Haber. When Haber realizes that George is not crazy and that these “effective” dreams indeed change reality, the psychiatrist decides to make the world a better place.

And why not? Overpopulated, polluted, radioactive, and starving – humanity’s near future is an age of terrible consequences. The world could use a dreamer, figures Haber, so he hypnotizes George to shape the future.

By the end of the first week, the weather is warm and sunny, George wakes up to discover that he owns a cottage, ... Read More

The Door Into Summer: A charming time-travel story from Golden Age Heinlein

The Door Into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein

The Door Into Summer (1957) is an immensely enjoyable time-travel story told effortlessly by Robert A. Heinlein long before he turned into a crotchety, soap-box ranting old crank who had a very unhealthy obsession with free love and characters going back in time to get involved with their mothers (gross!!).

So, back to this book. The Door Into Summer is the story of Daniel Davis, a hard-working engineer in 1970 who invents a wonderful robot vacuum cleaner named Hired Girl (not at all sexist, right?), but has more ambitious plans for an all-purpose household robot called Flexible Frank. He collaborates with his business partner Miles Gentry and assistant named Belle Darkin. However, one evening Dan discovers that his partner Miles is in cahoots... Read More

Horrible Monday: Mile 81 by Stephen King

Mile 81 by Stephen King

One of the best things about e-books is that many more novella-length works get stand-alone publication. You don’t have to search them out in magazines, or wait for the author to write several of them and combine them in a collection, or spend a large chunk of change for a special printing from a small press. As I’ve always thought that the novella was the form best suited for short science fiction, I’m pleased with this advance; it almost makes up for not being able to hold a real book in my hands, turning real pages.

One of the worst things about e-books, though, is that they disappear on one’s Kindle (or Nook, or tablet; whatever). You can’t really search through them the way you can scan a bookshelf. When you’re an inveterate collector of books, those e-book deals fill up your reader until you’ve forgotten you bought that cool novella by one of your favorite writers that you couldn’t wai... Read More