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Astounding: Four men who, despite their flaws, helped form science fiction

Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee

The Golden Age of Science Fiction is generally pinned to the decade from 1939 to 1950, and while a host of people contributed in various ways, pretty much everyone agrees that if one could point to a single dominating figure it would John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction, the pre-eminent magazine for science fiction at the time. In Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction (2018), Alec Nevala-Lee explains how Campbell, and the trio of quite different authors who made up his highly influential stable of writers, came to have such outsized influence and then, for Campbell, how it was lost over the decades to follow.
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Fear: Hubbard’s classic horror thriller demands to be read at a breakneck pace

Fear by L. Ron Hubbard

The professional reputation of Nebraska-born writer L. Ron Hubbard, it seems to me, has taken a double hit since his heyday in the 1940s. Hubbard, of course, was the founder of the cultish sect known as Scientology, and ever since the release of his initial article on Dianetics in the May 1950 issue of John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science-Fiction, and the founding of the group two years later, his name has been unavoidably linked to this oft-maligned pseudoreligion. And then there was the notorious film version of Hubbard’s 1982 doorstop of a novel Battlefield Earth, featuring Scientologist John Travolta in a picture that most viewers seem to have found dreadful, if not laughable. (Full confession: I have never read the... Read More

Bright Ruin: Rebellion against magical tyranny

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Bright Ruin by Vic James

"Fear was the superpower they all possessed. And unlike Midsummer’s monsters, there was no limit to the number of people they could control with it."

Vic James wraps up her hard-hitting DARK GIFTS fantasy trilogy with Bright Ruin (2018), which picks up right where the second book, Tarnished City, left off. This series is set an alternative version of our world where a minority, called the “Equals,” has powerful magical gifts. What they are supposed to be “equal” to is a good question, since ― in England and several other countries ― they have used their powers to cruelly oppress the non-magical m... Read More

The Penelopiad: A razor-sharp retelling

Reposting to include Ray's new review.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

It is Alicia Ostriker, in her wonderful collection of essays Dancing at the Devil’s Party, who writes “the true poet is necessarily the partisan of energy, rebellion, and desire, and is opposed to passivity, obedience, and the authority of reasons, laws and institutions.” Daring to deconstruct one of the most dearly held myths of the Western world, Margaret Atwood’s 2005 The Penelopiad is certainly a tango step or two with the one with the pitchfork tail. Taking The Odyssey and turning it on its head, from comedy to tragedy, Atwood gives readers Penelope’s side of the story.

Narrated from Hades, The Penelopiad is a recounting of Penelope’s life... Read More

Skyward: Fighting for the stars

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson’s new young adult science fiction novel, Skyward (2018), replaces his intricately detailed fantasy magical systems with equally detailed dogfights between one-person starship fighters of the humans living on the planet Detritus (it’s as bleak as it sounds) and the starships of the alien Krell. The Krell chased a fleet of human spaceships to Detritus decades ago and have pinned them down on the planet since, frequently bombarding the humans with attacks that threaten to wipe out the colony, where people primarily live underground for safety.

Spensa Nightshade’s father died years ago during a major battle against the Krell. Though other families of spaceship pilots are lauded by the colony, “Chaser” Nightshade was accused of being a coward, fleeing the Kre... Read More

War of the Wolf: Swords, Saxons, and superstitions

War of the Wolf by Bernard Cornwell

War of the Wolf (2018) is the eleventh book in Bernard Cornwell’s THE SAXON STORIES series, which was adapted into The Last Kingdom, on Netflix. It’s easy to see why the series was optioned for a visual adaptation — Cornwell’s prose neatly balances battle scenes and moments when plots are quietly hammered out, and his faithfulness to his faithfulness to 9th and 10th century Britain is admirable without becoming slavish, allowing his room to invent his own characters or scenarios and fold them into established historical precedent.

Not having read any of the preceding books in the series, I was at a disadvantage when it came to jumping into Uhtred of Bebbanburg’s life; Cornwell doesn’t spend much time with exposition or info-dumps, and the... Read More

The Overstory: The secret life of trees

The Overstory by Richard Powers

… when you cut down a tree, what you make from it should be at least as miraculous as what you cut down.

The Overstory (2018) is a powerful, literary novel, shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize. It sings, in part, a paean to the wonders of trees and the multitude of wonders that old-growth forests and a variety of trees brings to our world. It also mourns a tragedy: how humans relentlessly annihilate these priceless resources, and what drives some people to eco-terrorism.

The Overstory is brilliantly organized in a form that reflects an actual tree. It begins with a section aptly titled "Roots,” a set of eight apparently unconnected stories in which we meet nine disparate characters: An artist whose family home in Iowa boasts one of the last healthy American chestnut trees. The engineer daughter of a Chinese immigra... Read More

The Book of Never Vol 1 – 3: A stranger on a mysterious quest…

The Book of Never Volumes 1 – 3 by Ashley Capes

Never is a man with a magical gift and a history that's as mysterious as his name. Hunted by the soldiers of ruthless Commander Harstas, Never is known for having blood with an usual trait: every time it mingles with that of another person (usually in combat situations), he takes on their memories, personality, and — at the start of this story — any illnesses they might carry.

Now struck with a strange fever that he can't seem to break, Never's ongoing quest to find answers to his condition and his past is endangered by the vulnerable state he finds himself in.

Teaming up with some companions that promise a cure (but who may or may not be trustworthy) the story is divided into five distinct parts (or novellas) which can be purchased separately or in collected editions. Since I've read the first three, “The Amber isle”, “A Forest of Eyes”, and “River God... Read More

Roar of Sky: A solid conclusion to this magical alternate-history trilogy

Roar of Sky by Beth Cato

Beth Cato concludes her BLOOD OF EARTH trilogy with Roar of Sky (2018), bringing the story of clandestine geomancer Ingrid Carmichael, which began in Breath of Earth and continued in Call of Fire, to an action-packed close. This review will contain some spoilers for events in previous books, so proceed with caution.

Badly wounded and permanently debilitated after her desperate fight in Seattle against Ambassador Blum, Ingrid and her friends Cy Jennings and Fenris Braun flee to Hawaii aboard the Palmetto Bug, a small airship designed by Fenris, seeking information about Ingrid’... Read More

The Woman in Black: A classic ghost story

Reposting to include Ray's new review.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

So what does a young actor do after starring in one of the most lucrative franchises in cinema history? That was the precise dilemma facing the 22-year-old Daniel Radcliffe in 2011, upon the completion of his 8th and final Harry Potter film. The Potter series had brought in a whopping $7.7 billion worldwide over its 10-year run, firmly establishing Radcliffe as an international star. And so, the question: What next? Wisely, the young actor’s follow-up project was another in the supernatural/fantasy vein, and one that was also based on an already well-loved source. The film was 2012’s The Woman In Black, another successful film for Radcliffe, having been produced for $15 million and bringing in almost $130 million at the box office. The film was based on English author Read More

Some Must Watch: Book vs. film

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Some Must Watch by Ethel Lina White

There is a word that film buffs like to use to describe a type of motion picture that, because of its tautness and high suspense quotient, almost seems as if it had been directed by the so-called “Master of Suspense” himself, Alfred Hitchcock. The word, naturally enough, is “Hitchcockian,” a term that might be fairly applied to such wonderful entertainments as Gaslight (both the 1940 and ’44 versions), Charade, The Prize and Arabesque. But of all the pictures that have been honored with the adjective “Hitchcockian” over the years, none, it seems to me, is more deserving than the 1946 RKO film The Spiral Staircase, and indeed, after 40 years’ worth of repeated watches, I have come to deem the picture the greatest horror outing of the 1940s … at least, that wasn’t a product of Universal Studios or producer... Read More

Untouched by Human Hands: Sheckley’s stories are sharp and insightful

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Untouched by Human Hands by Robert Sheckley

After reading Robert Sheckley’s Dimension of Miracles, I was eager to read more of his work. That novel was intelligent, creative, thought-provoking, and entertaining. So I picked up Untouched by Human Hands, a collection of Sheckley’s short stories published in the 1950s in the various pulp magazines.

My edition is the audiobook produced by Skyboat Media and read by Gabrielle de Cuir, Stefan Rudnicki, and Harlan Ellison. It’s almost 6 hours long. The stories are:

"The Monsters" (Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, March 1953) — This is a first contact story in which friendly humans arri... Read More

Lies Sleeping: The newly-promoted wizarding detective returns

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Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant, our favourite semi-competent detective cum wizard-in-training, returns in Lies Sleeping (2018), the seventh book in Ben Aaronovitch’s RIVERS OF LONDON series. The Faceless Man has been unmasked and is on the run, and it is now up to Peter and the inimitable Detective Chief Inspector Nightingale (slash last officially sanctioned English Melvin the Wizard) to apprehend him.

(Fair warning: some spoilers for preceding books will follow.)

London is once more under threat and there can only be one man behind it. Readers will remember that the Faceless Man was finally unmasked as Martin Chorley, who, in true Vader-style, managed ... Read More

The Monster Baru Cormorant: An intellectually stimulating read

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The
Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

The
Monster Baru Cormorant (2018) by Seth Dickinson is one of those push-me-pull-me books. I admired it more than I enjoyed it. I found it stimulating rather than engaging. I thought it overly talky but liked the level of intellect in the conversation. I could reason out the characters’ assumed emotional states (I think), but never really felt them. I was pushed. I was pulled. Inevitable spoilers (some big ones) for book one, The Traitor Baru Cormorant ahead.

After a brief scene that will make a lot more sense later, The Monster ... Read More

A Town Divided by Christmas: A humorous mix of science and romance

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A Town Divided by Christmas by Orson Scott Card

The scientific method collides with southern small town culture and a local mystery in Orson Scott Card’s charming and insightful novella A Town Divided by Christmas (2018). Two post-doc academics ― Dr. Delilah (Spunky) Spunk, an economist, and Dr. Elyon Dewey, a geneticist ― are sent to Good Shepherd, North Carolina to do a genetic and sociological study. The hope is that by studying a relatively genetically isolated population, they can prove or disprove the theory that certain people carry a “homebody marker": a genetic tendency to remain in their native community or return to it. Spunky, the more personable of the two, is charged with interviewing the townspeople and convincing them to give genetic samples; Elyon (“that mo... Read More

Killing Commendatore: For long time Murakami readers

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

What is the best way into Haruki Murakami’s new novel, Killing Commendatore (2018)?

This is a late novel from an aging novelist (Murakami is 69 years old) who has perhaps lost the vitality that carried his greatest novels. In fact, I gave up on 2013’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by the end of the first chapter. It seemed like a re-tread, something I could return to later or never. I was therefore pleased when I found that I had once again fallen under the spell of a Murakami novel with Killing Commendatore. The story begins when a talented but mostly bored portrait artist learns that his wife wants a divorce. He travels briefly around Japan before settling in a borrowed mountain home. There, he finds a yearn... Read More

Age of War: Trudging to battle

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Age of War by Michael J. Sullivan

We (Tadiana and Marion) have both been reading THE LEGENDS OF THE FIRST EMPIRE series. Here, we take a few minutes to discuss the third book, Age of War. Tadiana: All the resentments, cruelties, conspiracies and ambitions that have been simmering since Age of Myth (and even before) boil over and explode in Age of War (2018), the third book in Michael J. Sullivan‘s LEGENDS OF THE FIRST EMPIRE series, a prequel series to both his RIYRIA CHRONICLES and RIYRIA REVELATIONS series. *Some spoilers for the first two books in this series follow* The Rh... Read More

The Winter Sea: Jacobite uprising and romantic turbulence

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The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

My recent read of Bellewether, the 2018 historical novel by Susanna Kearsley, left me slightly dissatisfied, but I knew (and was assured by historical novel-loving friends) that she was capable of far more engaging storytelling, so I dove into her older duology of Jacobite-era novels, The Winter Sea (2008) and The Firebird. Both of these books ― in which Kearsley employs her favored dual-timeline approach with romance subplots, a paranormal element, and stellar historical research ― were thoroughly enjoyable.

In The Winter Sea, Carolyn (Carrie) MClelland is a successful author of histor... Read More

Voyager of the Crown: Adventures of an ageless ex-queen

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Voyager of the Crown by Melissa McShane

In a world where a minority of people have inherent magical powers, and in a country where such magical powers are viewed with deep suspicion ― particularly if wielded by people in power ― Zara North has a huge secret: she has the ability to automatically heal physical injuries to herself, even those that cause aging and death. What would be a mortal injury for anyone else simply puts her out of commission temporarily. Zara was the queen of Tremontane sixty years ago, during the events of Servant of the Crown, the first book in Melissa McShane’s CROWN OF TREMONTANE fantasy series. When she discovered her inherent magic in her late twenties, she... Read More

Witch House: Sarai, Sarai, quite contrary

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Witch House by Evangeline Walton

Ever since British author Horace Walpole kick-started the haunted house genre with his seminal short novel of Gothic romance, The Castle of Otranto (1765), there have been hundreds of short stories and dozens of novels centered on this most shuddery of literary subjects. But for this reader, the two novels at the very top of the ectoplasmic heap have long been Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1959), still the most spine-tingling book that I have ever read, and Richard Matheson’s ubercreepy Hell House (1971); perhaps not surprisingly, those two were later adapted into exquisitely scary cinematic fare, in, respectively, The Haunting Read More

Dimension of Miracles: Absurd, amusing, thought-provoking

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Dimension of Miracles by Robert Sheckley

A few years ago, Neil Gaiman produced a series of audiobooks called Neil Gaiman Presents in which he identified several of his favorite novels that had not yet been produced in audio format, found suitable narrators, and provided his own introductions to the books. I’ve purchased almost all of them.

In his introduction to Robert Sheckley’s Dimension of Miracles (1968), Gaiman discusses his disco... Read More

The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands

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The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands edited by Hue Lewis-Jones

Before I get into the review proper of Hue Lewis-Jones’ The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands, I have to note up front that my digital copies of the book had major formatting issues so that passages were jumbled up such that one paragraph would end and a wholly unrelated paragraph (one from either earlier or later in the book) would follow. Or the book would just stop, with pages from, say 25 onward, just being a sea of white. These issues arose on both my iPad and my Kindle, no matter how many times I downloaded a new version and deleted the old. I’m assuming the problem is just an artifact of the Advanced Reader’s Copy and won’t occur with purchased versions, but it had, as you might imagine, a bit of a deleterious effect on my own reading experience. Something to keep in mind.
... Read More

Putting the Science in Fiction: Expert Advice for Writing with Authenticity in Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Other Genres

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Putting the Science in Fiction: Expert Advice for Writing with Authenticity in Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Other Genres
edited by Dan Koboldt

Putting the Science in Fiction: Expert Advice for Writing with Authenticity in Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Other Genres is a collection of brief essays from experts in various fields that originally appeared as part of editor Dan Koboldt’s blog, which he describes in this way:

"Each week, we discuss elements of sci-fi or fantasy with an expert in a relevant topic area. We debunk the myths, correct the misconceptions, and offer advice on getting the details right."

Anyone who has started yelling at a book or the TV due to some glaring scientific error (we know who we are) will recognize the problem Koboldt’s blog, and now this book, is trying to solve, and more power to him. Pu... Read More

Necroscope II: Vamphyri!: Harry Keogh is back!

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Necroscope II: Vamphyri! by Brian Lumley

Warning: This review will contain spoilers for the previous book, Necroscope.

Suggestion: Try to ignore the horrible cover art.

Necroscope II: Vamphyri! Or (Wamphyri!) is the second book in Brian Lumley’s NECROSCOPE series. These horror novels follow the life and death of Harry Keogh, the Necroscope. As the only person who can talk to the dead, he is beloved by them and, since most people who have ever lived are currently dead, he has more friends than anyone else in the world... and these friends are willing to do favors for Harry. One thing they do is teach him, so Harry has becom... Read More

A Study in Honor: Strong character- and world-building, but a weak mystery

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A Study in Honor by Claire O’Dell

I enjoyed quite a lot about A Study in Honor (2018), the first novel in Claire O’Dell’s near-future mystery series THE JANET WATSON CHRONICLES. Her twists on the Holmes-and-Watson dynamic are fresh and interesting, the characters themselves are compelling and beautifully real, and her portrayal of an America gripped by conflicts and changes brought on by unrest at home is all-too-relevant. As a mystery novel, however, it falls a little short, with most of O’Dell’s attention going toward establishing who the primary characters are and bringing them together despite their personality conflicts, and I discovered (much to my dismay) that much of the mystery itself is laid bare on the back cover of the novel.

The conceit at the core of A Study in Honor is quite hea... Read More