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Raising Caine: Like a dish of Neapolitan ice cream

Raising Caine by Charles E. Gannon

Neapolitan ice cream with its three stripes of flavor, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, was a favorite in my house when I was growing up. Charles E. Gannon’s latest novel Raising Caine reminds me of that. Do you like rollicking high-tech military SF? Get yourself a bowl. You want multi-planetary space opera with unusual environments and nonhuman exo-sapients? Dish up. You want a book that makes you think about the nexus of biological evolution and social evolution? Grab a spoon, because this one’s for you.

Raising Caine is the third book in Gannon’s TALES OF THE TERRAN REPUBLIC, and to get the maximum enjoyment out of it, you should first read Fire by Fire and Trial by Fire. I... Read More

A Thousand Nights: An unusual take on the Scheherazade tale

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

When the dust rises over the desert, the villagers know that Lo-Melkhiin is coming with his guards to choose another wife. He always takes one wife from each village, or each district within a city. And she always dies.

E.K. Johnston’s A Thousand Nights is a young adult fantasy retelling of the Scheherazade framing story for One Thousand and One Nights, the famous collection of Persian, Arabic and Middle Eastern folk tales. Lo-Melkhiin is the ruler over a large area in the ancient Middle Eastern world. Those who know him know that he has changed from the caring person he used to be, though he is still a capable ruler. What they do not know is that when he rode out alone too far into the desert one day, his body was possessed by a ruthless creature — let’s call him a demon — who then proceeds to suck the power and life f... Read More

The King in Yellow: Weird stories that inspired H.P. Lovecraft

The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers

... It is well known how the book spread like an infectious disease, from city to city, from continent to continent, barred out here, confiscated there, denounced by Press and pulpit, censured by even the most advanced of literary anarchists... It could not be judged by any known standard, yet, although it was acknowledged that the supreme note of art had been struck in The King in Yellow, all felt that human nature could not bear the strain, nor thrive on the words in which the essence of purest poison lurked.

Robert W. Chambers was an American writer who was born in 1865. He studied art in Paris for a time, returning to the U.S. to be an artist and illustrator. He sold some drawings, then switched tracks and began writing. His first novel was called In the Quarter and was a partially biographical story set in Paris’s Latin Quarter, fol... Read More

Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray by Frank Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham

Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray by Frank Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham

Imagine your favorite pulp art from the covers and illustrations of adventure and fantasy stories. Now imagine this same style updated so that the artwork is consistent with a hint of contemporary polish plus wonderful, eye-grabbing color. Finally, imagine a comic book that tells an entire story with this artwork so that instead of the illustrations accompanying the text, the text accompanies the art. At that point, you will have imagined the first volume of Frank Barbiere’s Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray, which is illustrated by Chris Mooneyham, with colors provided by S. M. Vidaurri and Lauren Affe.
... Read More

The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman and J. H. Williams III

The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman and J. H. Williams III

Most monthly comics come out, well, monthly, but DC decided to drag out The Sandman: Overture and release it every other month, and that seemed reasonable given how long it takes for J. H. Williams III to create his exquisite artwork. However, the comic ended up taking a full year longer than announced — from October 2013 to October 2015. After the first three issues, I quit reading because I just couldn’t stand the anticipation. As of this week, however, nobody needs to wait again. All six issues of The Sandman: Overture have been completed and released. The collected trade edition won’t come out until mid... Read More

Edge: The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard

The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard

The Drowned World (1962) is J.G. Ballard’s best apocalyptic work, the other two being The Burning World (1964) and The Crystal World (1966), but if you are thinking of an action-packed adventure where a plucky group of survivors clings to decency amid the collapse of civilization, this is the wrong book. Ballard was interested in ‘inner space,’ and while he sometimes adopted SF tropes in his books and short stories, his works most often featured natural disasters, the collapse of civilization, lonely astronauts, grim future urban landscapes, and weird obsessions with technology and mechanization. His main intent was to explore the psychology of human beings trapped in modern urban societies (and what happens when these societies collapse), and most of his protagonists are fatalistic, detached, and not particularl... Read More

Time’s Eye: Action, science and… Alexander the Great vs. Genghis Khan?

Time’s Eye by Arthur C. Clarke & Stephen Baxter

Action, you say? Science!? Characters in 3D!?? But wait… there’s more! How about an ancient battle-royale between Alexander the Great and his army vs. Genghis Khan and his Mongolian horde?

Oh yes, sci-fi power couple Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter have all that and more in the 2003 opening to their A TIME ODYSSEY series, which, in theory, takes place in the same universe as Clarke's SPACE ODYSSEY stories.

Inexplicably, at least initially, Earth is sliced up and stitched back together creating a mish-mash of timeframes. This scenario creates the opportunity for Baxter and Clarke to position a Genghis-Alexander battle for control over the new Earth (dubbed "Mir" by the remnant individuals from the 21st century... Read More

The Eternal Champion: Examines the multiplicity of an individual

The Eternal Champion by Michael Moorcock

Though I have read a handful of Elric stories and several comics — new and old — based on the character, The Eternal Champion is the first complete novel of Michael Moorcock’s that I have read, and I enjoyed it immensely. Erekosë, another character in Moorcock’s larger ETERNAL CHAMPION series, is a fascinating character who, as a warrior with ethical concerns about war, allows Moorcock to reflect upon weighty matters via his fictional narrative. But most importantly, it’s a wonderfully fun book to read. Great ideas are not of much use if nobody even wants to read the novel.

The plot is simple: A man in the present is called via magic to return as the Eternal Champion and defender of humanity in a King’s war against “The Eldren Threat,” ... Read More

Horrible Monday: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. Everyone on the same page? Okay… Hill has delivered a deeply satisfying and literate novel in NOS4A2. He is absolutely his own man, and he’s very good. But he’s also picked up some tricks from his father. He writes children well, especially those that have some unique ability. In this case, Victoria McQueen has a special gift: she can find lost things. And this skill tends to transport her to wherever those lost things happen to be.

The book is most successful in its character development. Many a page is dedicated to the growth and transformation of Vic McQueen’s personality, as we see her grow from a young girl overwhelmed by her unique capabilities, to a mother equally as overwhelmed by her life, by those she loves, and by the maniacal plottings of Char... Read More

SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki

SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki

SuperMutant Magic Academy is a difficult book to review, but it is certainly an easy one to recommend. You need to get a copy, and you need to put it next to your HARRY POTTER collection on your bookshelves. It’s funny, shocking, goofy, light, and surprisingly more endearing than a book like this one should be, since at first it seems to be a mere spoof — not always lovingly, thank goodness — of the HARRY POTTER novels.

Jillian Tamaki wrote, drew, and posted online these little one-page visual gags. I didn’t kn... Read More

Alistair Grim’s Odditorium: The magical adventures of a chimney sweep

Alistair Grim’s Odditorium by Gregory Funaro

Alistair Grim’s Odditorium, by Gregory Funaro, is a charming middle grade fantasy that reminds me of Roald Dahl’s classic James and the Giant Peach, but with a Victorian steampunk flavor. Replace the giant peach with a large, bizarrely-shaped mansion with strange powers and even stranger inhabitants. Add one intrepid twelve year old ("or thereabouts") runaway chimney sweep named Grubb, and a doughty and stubborn magical pocket watch named McClintock with the heart of a Scottish warrior, along with assorted fairies (good and evil) and other magical beings, and you've got a great adventure for the younger set.

Grubb (no other name) is a young “chummy” or chimney sweep’s assistant, living in London in the 1800s. He doesn’t know who his ... Read More

The Scorpion Rules: The price of peace

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

Sit down, kiddies. Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, humans were killing each other so fast that total extinction was looking possible, and it was my job to stop them.

Well, I say “my job.” I sort of took it upon myself. Expanded my portfolio a bit. I guess that surprised people. I don’t know how it surprised people — I mean, if they’d been paying the slightest bit of attention they’d have known that AIs have this built-in tendency to take over the world. Did we learn nothing from The Terminator, people?

So begins Erin Bow’s new young adult dystopian novel, The Scorpion Rules, with Talis, the snarky but cold-hearted artificial intelligence overlord of the earth, explaining how humanity got itself into its current bind. Ear... Read More

The Mirror Empire: The few flaws overcome by the richness and sense of ambition

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

So I finally got to Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire, which has been hanging out on my Kindle for some time now. But with the sequel, Emperor Ascendant, due out in a few weeks, I figured it was time to pull it up. And I’m glad I did, since even if I had some issues, The Mirror Empire turned out to be a (mostly) engaging story set in a fascinating world filled with an intriguing crew of characters and cultures, most of which play with “traditional” gender roles.

The premise of the setting is a universe of parallel (or “mirror”) worlds that over time move closer to and farther from one another, with that distance affecting the ease of travel between worlds. The astronomical geography (akin to astrology, really) is also the basis of the novel’s magic system, as ce... Read More

Ragnarok: Volume One by Walt Simonson and Laura Martin

Ragnarok (Vol. One): Walt Simonson (author), Laura Martin (art), John Workman (letters)

Although Thor was one of my favorite Marvel titles back in the Lee-Kirby era, I never made it to the fabled Walt Simonson run in the 80’s (a problem I intend to rectify eventually). But I have picked up his return to the character via his comic series Ragnarok, which takes place outside the Marvel universe, picking up Thor’s story after the titular great battle, when as foretold in the sagas and myths, the world as once known has ended. Oh, and when Thor is a zombie (or draugr as the Norse call them). So far I’ve read the first six episodes, collected in Ragnarok Volume One Read More

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: Impressive and intriguing

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

Having your reputation precede you isn’t always a good thing. I’d never picked up a David Mitchell novel before. His list of accolades is ridiculous: he was selected as one of Granta’s best young British novelists, has graced the Most Influential People lists, been nominated for Bookers, yada yada yada. All I’d really heard is that he is deliberately difficult, with Stephen King making the rather sassy assertion that Cloud Atlas was a literary stunt. And then I read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and, just like every other FanLit reviewer, I’ve been charmed.

So, from what I’ve read, it appears that The Thousand Autumns of Jacob... Read More

THE TADUKI QUARTET: Four stories about Allan Quatermain

THE TADUKI QUARTET by H. Rider Haggard

The great adventure fantasist H. Rider Haggard, over the course of his 40+-year career, wrote 14 novels dealing with the adventures of perhaps his greatest character, English hunter Allan Quatermain. Four of these are loosely connected affairs that have sometimes been referred to as the “taduki quartet,” taduki being an inhaled drug with mystical properties that features in no less than three of those books. Here, for your one-stop taduki shopping, I present four mini-reviews of the books in this remarkable series, in their chronological order of publishing appearance:

Allan and the Holy Flower (1915) — This is one of the 14 books that H. Rider Haggard wrote (starting with King Solomon's Mines) depicting the adventures of Allan Quatermain, great English... Read More

Wolves: A remarkable novel in spite of, and because of, its flaws

Wolves by Simon Ings

“When we fall in love with someone, we fall in love first with their world. Sometimes love for the person follows. Sometimes not.”

Four pages into Simon Ings's newest novel, Wolves, and I am already underlining things with a pencil for their insight into the human psyche, something which, if I am to be honest, I find lacking in many genre novels and am most likely to find in the so called literary novels. Wolves has been hailed as a triumphal return to science fiction by UK-based author Ings, even though the speculative elements which are characteristic of science fiction are sparse and only come into importance toward the final two thirds of the novel. Wolves is at the same time a coming of age tale and a whodunnit story, but even more than those archetypes, it is the story of Conrad and Michel, two chi... Read More

The Weight of Feathers: Star-crossed love takes wing

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

The Romeo and Juliet story is updated with a few twists in Anna-Marie McLemore’s debut young adult fantasy novel, The Weight of Feathers, published September 15, 2015. Two rival families travel between small towns in California in a nostalgic setting that seems to be approximately the 1960s, performing their Cirque du Soleil-type acts for the townspeople. The French Romani Corbeaus (“Ravens”) attach wings made of wire and feathers to their bodies and perform acrobatics in the treetops; the young women in the Latino Paloma family (“Doves”) dress up as mermaids and do mystic underwater dance routines. What outsiders do not know is that the Corbeaus actually grow feathers in their hair, and the Palomas have escalas, small scattered birthmarks that look like fish scales.

For the last twenty years, the Corbeau/Paloma feud has tak... Read More

The Wild Girl: A moving novel about the literary history of fairy-tales

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth’s book, The Wild Girl, was published in Australia in 2013 but has recently been released in the United States in both hardback, Kindle, and audio versions. It tells the story of an unsung hero of the history of fairy-tales: Dortchen Wild, the sweetheart and eventual wife of Wilhelm Grimm and the origin of many of the Grimm’s tales.

Dortchen grows up with six sisters and an invalid mother under the authoritarian rule of her apothecary father, Herr Wild, near Hesse-Kassel (part of what is known today as Germany). Their next-door neighbors, the Grimms, fascinate Dortchen, who befriends the youngest Grimm, Lotte. At a very young age, Dortchen develops a crush on Lotte’s older brother, Wilhelm, who has returned from university. She assists Wilhelm and his brother, Jacob, ... Read More

The Dirdir: The best PLANET OF ADVENTURE book so far

The Dirdir by Jack Vance

Poor Adam Reith. He’s still stranded on the planet Tchai where he is the only Earthman on a world where nobody believes in Earth and everyone thinks he’s crazy. All of Adam’s efforts to leave have, so far, only resulted in him becoming a wanted criminal. After escaping from the Chasch in the first book (City of the Chasch) and from the Wankh in the previous book (Servants of the Wankh), Adam wants to travel to the domain of the technologically-advanced Dirdir. They have a spaceyard in the city of Sivishe where he should be able to find the specialized supplies and labor he needs to build a spaceship capable of taking him home.

Since book one, Adam has been traveling with two very different companions, Traz and Anancho:
They ate in silence; disparate beings, each found the other incomprehensible. Anacho, tall, thin and pallid like all Dirdirme... Read More

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: Stuart discusses the book and film

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner was arguably the most brilliant, though-provoking, and intelligent SF film ever made, with a uniquely dark vision of a deteriorated future Earth society and a morally ambiguous tale of a bounty hunter Rick Deckard hunting down and ‘retiring’ a series of very intelligent Nexus-6 type replicants (androids) that want very much to live. The movie changed the way moviegoers looked at SF films, and brought great credibility to its director and the genre for a much wider audience, although it was a box-office failure and Philip K Dick never lived to see the completed film. It raised questions of morality and humanity that are basically unanswerable, but presented this vision in a visually stunning, emotionally compelling and visceral story with complex characters and no ea... Read More

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps: A strong and original debut

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson

In The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, the double debut of celebrated short story writer Kai Ashante Wilson and novella publisher Tor.com, the sons of gods and angels walk the Earth and big caravans of merchants roam dangerous roads in search of riches untold. Demane is one of such demigods, and decades after his godly progenitors have chosen to ascend and abandon the world, he is working as a guard to a merchant caravan where his brothers, the other caravan guards, call him Sorcerer for his otherworldy abilities.

To reach their destination, Olorum, the caravan must first pass through the Wildeeps, a stretch of jungle in a land that sees little rain and the magic and technology of the long gone gods runs strong and wild. To pass through it Demane and the caravan must stay on the Road, which is magically warded against whichever dangers lurk n... Read More

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai: A promising beginning to a new epic fantasy series

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is the first book in a new series by Bradley P. Beaulieu set in the great desert city of Sharakhai, ruled for centuries by the same dozen Kings who long ago made a pact with the gods to fend off the desert tribes and establish their power. As a novel that comes to its own semi-resolution, it's nicely rewarding in its own self-contained way (if not without some issues), but Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, I’d say, works even better as an evocative opening to a world whose full complexity is only just hinted at by the end.

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai opens with a bang, presenting our main character Çeda (pronounced Chay-da) in a gladiatorial match in her persona as the White Wolf — a fan favorite in the city’s fi... Read More

Six POWDER MAGE prequels: A great introduction to McClellan’s world

Six POWDER MAGE prequels by Brian McClellan

After noticing what John and Kevin said about Brian McClellan’s POWDER MAGE trilogy, I was eager to give the books a try, but I thought I’d start with the six short prequels that McClellan has written to introduce his world and its characters. Each of these is available in Kindle and Audible formats, often with the Whispersync deal. For example, the first novella (Forsworn) can be purchased for $2.99 in Kindle format and you can add Audible narration for an additional $1.99. I read all of these stories in audio format. The narrators are Julie Hoverson and Daniel Dorse.

I read the prequels in chronological order:

Forsworn (2 hours long) takes place about 35 years before the events of the first POWDER MAGE novel, Read More

The Eye of the Heron: A short but complex novel suitable for all ages

The Eye of the Heron by Ursula K. Le Guin

Starscape (Tom Doherty’s YA imprint) presents The Eye of the Heron as a book for ages 10 and above. While the story is straightforward enough, the philosophical ideas that underpin the story are quite complex, so The Eye of the Heron is quite an interesting read for the more mature reader as well. Le Guin does not waste any words in telling the story, she delivers a to-the-point but surprisingly complex novel. If you read it at age 10, you’ll probably see it in a different light now.

The Eye of the Heron is set on a planet that was fairly recently colonized. Le Guin doesn’t mention a year but sometime in the 22nd century seems reasonable. Two waves of colonists have settled a small area of the planet. One group consists of criminals from a nation that covers South America, sent on a one way trip to dispose ... Read More