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The Forgotten Beasts of Eld: A supremely entertaining book

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip

As one of Patricia McKillip's earlier works, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld provides an interesting comparison to her first publication Riddle-Master, a dense trilogy that made the most of her trademark poetic-prose. On the other hand, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is a relatively slim volume with a clear concise style and a straightforward story. Since then, McKillip has managed to successfully merge the aspects of both works in her later works, but The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is by no means an example of a new writer still trying to find her voice. Far from it: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld has a fascinating premise, intriguing character interactions and a rewarding con... Read More

The Begum’s Fortune: Frankville vs. Stahlstadt

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The Begum’s Fortune by Jules Verne

I am by no means a student of world history, but as far as I can make out, the Franco-Prussian War, which began in July 1870 and ended some 10 months later, had some fairly significant and long-lasting aftereffects. As a result of its surrender, France had to cede over to Germany the bulk of the Alsace-Lorraine territory, while Germany emerged a unified empire, effectively altering the balance of European power. For Frenchman Jules Verne, the Germans would never be regarded in the same way again, and his sentiments toward the former enemy would be abundantly displayed in his novel The Begum’s Fortune. This was to be the 18th novel for the so-called “Father of Science Fiction,” out of an eventual 54 to be published during his lifetime; eight more w... Read More

Taste of Marrow: After some fun explosions, the real work begins

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Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey

In the novella River of Teeth (2017), Sarah Gailey introduced readers to a hard-working crew of miscreants who were hired for an operation (not a caper, mind you), the goal of which was the removal of feral hippopotami living in a portion of the Mississippi Delta. In its sequel novella Taste of Marrow (2017), they’ve been split into two groups by the after-effects of River of Teeth’s explosive conclusion: Adelia Reyes, her infant daughter Ysabel, and Hero Shackleby; and Winslow Houndstooth and Regina “Archie” Archambault. Each group believes the other to be missing and/or dead, along with their beloved hops, and circumstances c... Read More

The Cosmic Rape: “Bastits!”

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The Cosmic Rape by Theodore Sturgeon

In Theodore Sturgeon’s International Fantasy Award-winning novel of 1953, More Than Human, six extraordinary young people with various extrasensory mental abilities blend their powers together to create what the author called a “gestalt consciousness.” And in his next novel, the Staten Island-born Sturgeon amplified on this idea of shared consciousness, but upped the ante quite a bit; instead of a mere half dozen souls forming one hive brain, Sturgeon posited the notion of a mind containing the thoughts and experiences of the life-forms of 2½ galaxies! The book was The Cosmic Rape, which followed More Than Read More

Robot Universe: A quick and fun tour through the world of robots real and imagined

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Robot Universe: Legendary Automatons and Androids from the Ancient World to the Distant Future by Ana Matronic

Ana Matronic is a huge fan of robots: “I love robots ... The reflection off highly polished metal, the red glow of a light-emitting diode, the sound of a vocoder: these are a few of my favorite things ... doesn’t everybody love robots?” Just in case some don’t, or aren’t sure if they do, she’s gathered together over a hundred of her personal favorites in a lavishly illustrated compendium titled Robot Universe: Legendary Automatons and Androids from the Ancient World to the Distant Future. It’s a pretty thorough gathering even if, as she readily admits, some might disagree with a few of her omissions.

Matronic divides the book into two sections — fictional and real-world robots. The fictional she further divides into the followin... Read More

The Emperor and the Maula: Laylah, you’ve got me on my knees

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The Emperor and the Maula by Robert Silverberg

As of this writing, in September 2017, Grand Master Robert Silverberg has come out with no fewer than 78 sci-fi novels, almost 450 short stories and novellas, around 70 books of nonfiction, and around 185 novels of, um, “adult fiction,” in addition to having edited over 130 anthologies. He has garnered for himself four Hugo Awards and six Nebula Awards in the process. The man’s prolific work pace is understandably legendary. Thus, it might strike some that his fans’ clamoring for more, yet more, is wholly unreasonable. After all, the man is currently 82; doesn’t he deserve a break, and a restful retirement? (The author, to his loyal readers’ chagrin, has not released a full-length novel since 2003’s Roma Eterna, wh... Read More

The Accelerators Vol. 2: Momentum by R.F.I. Porto, Gavin P. Smith, Tim Yates

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The Accelerators Vol. 2: Momentum by R.F.I. Porto, Gavin P. Smith, Tim Yates

The Accelerators Vo. 2: Momentum picks up right after the end of The Accelerators Vol. 1: Time Games, which introduced readers to an intrepid group of accidental time-travelers leapfrogging toward an unknowable future. In this second volume, the group visits the same location on Earth in different epochs — some friendly, though most are hostile or outright dangerous — gaining precious few answers along the way as to how any of this is possible or how it’s all come to pass.

Spatz, Alexa, and Bertram have been joined in their travels by a Roman they’ve named Spartacus, along with Bob and one of the Time Games’ blue-jumpsuited men, Gamemaster 997. The group has their... Read More

The Wandering Mage: The turmoil of converging nations and magical systems

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The Wandering Mage by Melissa McShane

The Wandering Mage (2017), the second volume of the CONVERGENCE trilogy by Melissa McShane, picks up right where the first volume, The Summoned Mage, left off (so there are, necessarily, some major spoilers here for that first book). Their world was split apart many centuries ago by a misuse of magic, but now the worlds have converged again. A complex spell, involving the work of many mages, has helped to minimize the physical damage caused by the convergence, but its aftermath left our main character, the Balaen mage Sesskia, many miles away from her now-husband Cederic, leader of the Cast... Read More

Zapped: From Infrared to X-rays, the Curious History of Invisible Light

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Zapped: From Infrared to X-rays, the Curious History of Invisible Light by Bob Berman

Zapped: From Infrared to X-rays, the Curious History of Invisible Light is a wonderfully smooth and lucid tour of the electromagnetic spectrum by Bob Berman, whose engagingly accessible prose makes this an excellent introduction to the topic for non-scientists.

Berman divides his exploration into two basic parts: how were the various types of light waves discovered and how do they impact our daily lives. Why light? Because, as Berman says, “photons constitute 99.9999999 percent of everything. The universe is literally made of light.” Seems kind of important then, and it’s hard to imagine a better guide to its ins and outs than Berman here.

Zapped opens with a general overview of optics — how we perceive light — and light’s form (both wave and particle)... Read More

The New Voices of Fantasy: A diverse and worthy collection

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The New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter Beagle

This collection of nineteen fantasy short works, edited by Peter Beagle, is definitely worthwhile if you like speculative short fiction. Many of them left an impact on me, and a few are true standouts. These stories are by relatively new authors in the speculative fiction genre and are all fantasy; otherwise there's no discernable overarching theme.

These stories have almost all been published previously over the last seven years, and several of them are Hugo or Nebula winners or nominees. While a dedicated reader of online short fiction can find many of these short works in free online magazines, it’s convenient to have them gathered together in one volume with other stories that aren’t as readily available.

A brief summary o... Read More

The Accelerators Vol. 1: Time Games

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The Accelerators Vo1. 1: Time Games by R.F.I. Porto, Gavin P. Smith, Tim Yates

If you were the kind of kid (or are the kind of adult) who staged epic action-figure battles between army guys and dinosaurs, or G.I. Joes and pretty much anything else, you’re going to love The Accelerator Vol. 1: Time Games’s blood-drenched stadium showdowns featuring Romans and Prohibition-era gangsters, Maya warriors and samurai, and much more, ably illustrated by Gavin Smith and Tim Yates. And if you’re in the mood for a forward-only time-travel mystery, R.F.I. Porto’s script has the goods.

The mechanism of travel works thusly: the glowing blue ring on Vol. 1’s cover is a “time donut,” and it isn’t as much a time machine as it is a time-and-space man... Read More

Call of Fire: Searching for friends in the shadow of Mount Rainier

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Call of Fire by Beth Cato

Call of Fire (2017) continues the adventures of Ingrid Carmichael, introduced in Breath of Earth as a secretary at a geomancy school with tremendous hidden powers and who, in this second BLOOD OF EARTH novel, is on the run from an ambitious ambassador with deadly secrets. This time, Beth Cato takes Ingrid, Lee Fong, Cy Jennings, and the brilliant engineer Mr. Fenris up the Pacific Northwest coastline to Portland and Seattle, where the Japanese influence of the United Pacific conglomeration is inescapable.

Ambassador Blum, a mysterious woman who can change her physical form and practices a dark form of reiki, desperately wants to get her hands on Ingrid, which forebodes all kinds of suffering, much like what ... Read More

Binti: Home: Adds complexity to a wonderful character

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Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor

In Binti: Home (2017), the follow-up novella to her very successful novella Binti, Nnedi Okorafor takes us back to Earth, to show us Binti’s reunion with family and discovery of hidden aspects of her heritage.

After the massacre that preceded her arrival at Oomza University, Binti is struggling to relate to other students at university or even focus on the advanced mathematics coursework she was so excited about. Although she remains close to Okwu, the Meduse she befriended and vouched for after the massacre in Binti, Binti finds herself angry with the Meduse — and with life — at times. These mood swings vi... Read More

The Thief of Always: A delightful children’s horror story

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The Thief of Always by Clive Barker

It’s summer and Harvey Swick, a ten year old with an active imagination, is bored. That’s how he gets lured into Mr. Hood’s Holiday House. It’s a wonderful place that’s fun and exciting, where Harvey gets everything his heart desires, and where he and the other kids who live there can play all day every day and eat delicious food whenever they want. As the seasons fly by, Harvey is happy at Mr. Hood’s house until things start to get a little spooky and it starts to dawn on Harvey that the place seems unnatural. When Harvey tries to leave, the Holiday House gets downright scary.

I was thoroughly entertained by Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always and I suspect that most children and teens will easily identify with Harvey and, ... Read More

Dragon’s Island: Part noir, part jungle adventure, all great fun

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Dragon’s Island by Jack Williamson

The five-year period from 1948 – ’52 was one of superlative productivity for future sci-fi Grand Master Jack Williamson. Although he’d already written some 75 short stories since his first sale at age 20, in 1928 (“The Metal Men,” in the December issue of editor Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories magazine), that five-year stretch saw him produce some of his most fondly remembered longer pieces: the novels Darker Than You Think (1948), The Humanoids (1949), T... Read More

Age of Assassins: Intriguing world-building and an attempted-murder mystery

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Age of Assassins by R.J. Barker

Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that you’re a fan of Robin Hobb’s REALMS OF THE ELDERLINGS — in particular, the FARSEER SAGA and FITZ AND THE FOOL books — as many readers are. Naturally, with Assassin’s Fate bringing the grand tale of Fitzchivalry Farseer to a close, you might feel a bit cast adrift, wondering where you might get your fix for “young assassin’s bildungsroman” paired with a deadly mentor and spycraft-disguised-as-theatre in an epic fantasy setting. And if that’s your thing, then R.J. Barker’s Age of Assassins (2017) is sure to scratch that itch.

... Read More

Standard Hollywood Depravity: Killer-robot conceit succeeds in shorter format

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Standard Hollywood Depravity by Adam Christopher

The very thing which makes Adam Christopher’s Ray Electromatic a compelling character — he’s a robot P.I.-turned-assassin for hire with a 24-hour memory — is simultaneously the best and most-frustrating thing about his RAY ELECTROMATIC series. When Christopher is restrained by the shorter word-counts of the novelette “Brisk Money” or this novella, Standard Hollywood Depravity (2017), there’s no room for unnecessary repetition or extraneous plot devices, and the “robot noir” at the heart of this series takes center stage.

Set between the full-le... Read More

The Gods of War: Is Rome worth a life?

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The Gods of War by Conn Iggulden

Every reader who starts Conn Iggulden’s Emperor: The Gods of War (2006) already knows that in this novel Caesar crosses the Rubicon, defeats Pompey, meets Cleopatra, and is ultimately betrayed by Marcus Brutus, his best friend. The point of the plot is not what happened but why. Caesar spent his life fighting for the Republic, but he betrayed it. Why? Brutus spent his life fighting for Caesar but chose to murder him. Why? The Gods of War should not work as a novel if it does not excel at character development.

When I began reading, I sadly concluded that the novel would disappoint. The initial chapters do not stand out for their complex characterization. Instead, Iggulden focuses on staging — politics without ... Read More

Mira’s Last Dance: An amusing episode in Penric’s continuing story

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Mira’s Last Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold

Note: Contains mild spoilers for the previous PENRIC novellas.

Around 15 years ago, Lois McMaster Bujold published her much-acclaimed WORLD OF THE FIVE GODS series which contained three stand-alone novels: The Curse of Chalion (winner of the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, nominated for the Hugo, Locus, and World Fantasy Awards), Paladin of Souls (winner of the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Award, nominated for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award) and The ... Read More

Sheltered by Ed Brisson

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Sheltered by Ed Brisson

Ed Brisson’s Sheltered is a short three-volume series (fifteen issues) that tells the story of one group of “preppers,” those who go off the grid, stockpile food and water, and take other precautions to weather a variety of possible apocalyptic endings. Safe Haven is a small, close community, and many of the children have grown up there. They are all good friends, so the main character, Victoria, is a real outsider since she has only recently come to live there with her father.

What makes Sheltered such a riveting series is the twist that comes in the first issue: All the adults die, and the children are left to fend for themselves. Once on their own, they get rid of all remaining means of communication and rely solely on the predictions mad... Read More

Arabella and the Battle of Venus: Arabella meets Napoleon Bonaparte

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Arabella and the Battle of Venus by David D. Levine

The adventures of the gallant-hearted young heroine Arabella Ashby continue in Arabella and the Battle of Venus (2017), David D. Levine’s warm-hearted melding of retro science fiction, à la Jules Verne, and the Napoleonic wars. In this sequel to Arabella of Mars, Arabella receives a battered letter from fiancé Captain Singh, regretfully informing her that he and his ship, the Diana, along with all his crew, have been captured by the French and are being held as prisoners of war on Venus. Though Captain Singh insists in his letter that Arabella remain on Mars, Arabella is not one to accept a bad situ... Read More

Age of Swords: Compelling novel with strong characters

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Age of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

Storm clouds have been gathering since the events of Age of Myth, the first book in Michael J. Sullivan‘s new epic fantasy series, LEGENDS OF THE FIRST EMPIRE. The Fhrey (elves) have been feeling threatened by the Rhunes (humans) ever since the Rhunes shifted from a nomadic lifestyle to a more settled one, with crops and flocks of animals as well as hunting. Their population started exploding, and the Rhunes now outnumber the long-lived Fhrey by a factor of twenty to one (one million Rhunes vs. fifty thousand Fhrey). The killing of two Fhrey by Raithe, a Rhune warrior, provided the final impetus for a Fhrey attack.

As Age of Swords Read More

Borderline: A diverse cast of characters and respectful treatment of mental illness

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Borderline by Mishell Baker

In the first installment of Mishell Baker’s THE ARCADIA PROJECT series we are introduced to Millie, whose borderline personality disorder at least partly explains the title of the book. Borderline (2016) follows Millie as she is pulled into The Arcadia Project, an organization that monitors and secures the comings and goings between the world of humans and the world of mythological, fairy tale creatures. Millie’s first assignment with The Arcadia Project has her tracking down an A-list movie star who is actually a denizen of that other world, and an important one at that. Millie must balance her mental health, her physical capabilities, and a dozen new acquaintances in order to manage this new life.

The magic in Borderline centres on the presence and activities of the fair... Read More

The Asylum of Dr. Caligari: A somehow funny melding of German Expressionism, WWI, and art therapy

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The Asylum of Dr. Caligari
by James Morrow

Using a cult-class silent horror film (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) as the template for a speculative fiction anti-war novel might be a weird idea, but James Morrow has made a career out of weird ideas (including several books on killing God) and that experience mostly pays off in The Asylum of Dr. Caligari, though I would have preferred a shorter version of the tale.

On the eve of WWI, Francis Wyndham, artist-wannabe, makes the European circuit to try and find a mentor. But after getting pushed down a flight of stairs by Picasso and not finding much success otherwise, he’s happy to take on the job of Art Therapist at an insane asylum. Once ensconced in the gothic institution, where he offers up art instruction to a bev... Read More

Black Light Express: A strong follow-up to its predecessor

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Black Light Express by Philip Reeve

Black Light Express (2017) is Philip Reeve’s just-as-good-as-the-first-book follow up to Railhead, continuing the exhilarating romp while expanding the universe and its inhabitants, as well as digging a bit more deeply into the hidden history of the created world and offering up some more page time to some of the first book’s secondary characters. Warning: there will be some inevitable spoilers for book one (you can just stop here with the take-away that I recommend the duology). First spoiler begins in the very next line!

So at the end of Railhead, Nova and Zen had opened a gate to a whole other set of worlds, these i... Read More