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Recalled to Life: Ungrateful dead

Recalled to Life by Robert Silverberg

True to his word, after announcing his retirement from the science fiction field in 1959, future Grand Master Robert Silverberg’s formerly prodigious output fell off precipitously. Although he’d released some 16 sci-fi novels from the period 1954 – ’59, not to mention almost 250 (!) sci-fi short stories, AFTER 1959 and until his major return in 1967, his sci-fi production was sporadic at best. In 1960, Silverberg only released one sci-fi book, Lost Race of Mars (a so-called “juvenile”), and in 1961, not a single full-length affair; only two short stories. In 1962, however, in a slight return to form, Silverberg released Recalled to Life and The Seed of Earth. The year 1962 was hardly an idle one for Silverberg, however; besides those two novels, he also released one sci-fi shor... Read More

Sailing to Sarantium: An epic collision of fantasy and a history textbook

Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay

Sailing to Sarantium is the first in Guy Gavriel Kay’s THE SARANTINE MOSAIC duology. In true Kay fashion, Sailing to Sarantium introduces the reader to an expansively realized world, complex characters, and life-changing events. THE SARANTINE MOSAIC is not strictly historical fiction, but it reads like it. Sarantium, the glorious empire ruled by the thrice exalted emperor, would feel right at home next to histories of ancient Greece or Rome. It was that feeling of reality, however ancient, that kept me eagerly reading.

Sailing to Sarantium follows Crispin, a master mosaicist who makes a journey to the golden city of Sarantium upon the summons of the Emperor himself. It is also the story of the Emperor and Empress and their plans to change the world. It is also ab... Read More

Elissa and Black Heart and White Heart: Two classic tales of adventure

Elissa & Black Heart and White Heart by H. Rider Haggard

Editor's note: Because they are in the public domain, both Elissa and Black Heart and White Heart are available for free on Kindle. To find them, click on the Kindle covers in this review.

The H. Rider Haggard novels Elissa and Black Heart and White Heart are usually to be found (when they can be found at all) together in a single volume, and for good reason. They are both shorter works by this great author (indeed, at a mere 105 pages, Black Heart and White Heart must be considered more of a novella or longish short story), and both are tales of adventure in the African milieu that Haggard knew so well, although the tales take place in ti... Read More

The Hydrogen Sonata: The final CULTURE novel

The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks

The Gzilt civilization is as old as the Culture, and their technology is roughly equivalent, too. Although the Gzilt were invited to join the Culture when it was created, they declined, in part because of the Book of Truth. The Gzilt are proud of their Book of Truth because, unlike so many other culturally significant texts, theirs actually predicted many technological achievements. So, the Gzilt figured they were special, declined to join the Culture, and now they’re preparing to Sublime.

Sublimation allows a civilization to exist in a higher, largely incomprehensible dimension. No one understands exactly what it is, but a civilization’s people and AIs do leave our space for a better one. Some old Culture ships have returned from the Sublime and mathematicians can prove that it exists. Still, it’s a big step.

And if that’s not clear enough: sublimation is a big-... Read More

Farthing: A country-house murder mystery in a dark alternate timeline

Farthing by Jo Walton

At first glance, it seems like Farthing, Book One in Jo Walton’s SMALL CHANGE trilogy, could have been written by Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers or Elizabeth George. At a house party in the home of an aristocratic British family, a guest is found dead, his body staged to throw suspicion on another guest specifically. Soon clouds of secrets, lies, betrayals and adulteries fill the air. Peter Carmichael, the Scotland Yard Inspector sent to investigate, must fight his way through those clouds, dealing with aristocratic privilege and interference from his own higher-ups, if he is to reveal the truth.

There’s nothing science-fictional about that, you might think, except for one small change. In the world of Farthing, America did not enter World War II. Britain and Germany met in 1941 and agreed to a treaty — “peace with ... Read More

The Fuller Memorandum: I can’t get enough of THE LAUNDRY FILES

The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross

I just can’t get enough of THE LAUNDRY FILES. This series has almost everything I want in an urban SFF adventure — an intelligent hero with a wry sense of humor and a great voice; an eclectic supporting cast; a fast pace with lots of action and plot twists; a cool mix of fantasy and science fiction; occasionally odd (and interesting) structural choices; a reverence for geek culture; and a smattering of computer science, mathematics, quantum physics and neuroscience. And Lovecraft. I love it.

In The Fuller Memorandum, the third LAUNDRY FILES novel, things start badly for Bob after he accidentally kills a bystander during a mission. He’s sent home to await an inquiry. That’s pretty bad, but soon things get worse. His enigmatic boss goes missing, there ar... Read More

Those Who Watch: Compulsively readable and quite touching

Those Who Watch by Robert Silverberg

There is a certain aptness in the fact that I penned this review for Robert Silverberg’s Those Who Watch on January 15, 2015. That day, you see, happened to be Silverberg’s 80th birthday, so my most sincere wishes for many more happy and healthy birthdays must go out to the man who has become, over the years, my favorite sci-fi author.

These days, of course, Silverberg is one of the most honored and respected writers in his chosen genre; a multiple winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards, not to mention a Science Fiction Grand Master. Hard to believe then that, back in 1959, Silverberg, facing a diminishing market for his work and chafing under the literary restrictions of the day, announced his retirement from the field. Since 1954, he’d already come out with some 15 sci-fi novels, plus ... Read More

The Straits of Galahesh: A strong second book

The Straits of Galahesh by Bradley Beaulieu

When I picked up Bradley Beaulieu’s The Straits of Galahesh, the second book in his THE LAYS OF ANUSKAYA series, it had been a while since I’d read the first book, The Winds of Khalakovo, so I was worried that I had forgotten many of the story details. But Beaulieu, in his infinite wisdom, put a summary of the first book where a prologue would be. Not only did this refresh my forgetful brain, but it kept Beaulieu from having to drop in constant “reminders” throughout the book. There were no refresher paragraphs sprinkled throughout the prose, which was absolutely wonderful. If you just came from reading The Winds of Khalakovo, you could skip that section. If it’s been a while, reading the first section will bring you up to speed and help you remember everything you might have forgotten.
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The Jennifer Morgue: Ian Fleming meets H.P. Lovecraft

The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross

The Jennifer Morgue, the second novel in Charles Stross’ LAUNDRY FILES, is a science fiction spy thriller that’s an obvious homage to Ian Fleming and H.P. Lovecraft. Bob has been sent to the Caribbean to try to find out why Ellis Billington, an evil megalomaniac billionaire, is interested in The Jennifer Morgue, a place deep in the ocean which may be an access point into our universe by tentacled eldritch horrors. For this assignment, Bob is paired up with someone from the American agency that deals with this kind of supernatural stuff — a gorgeous woman possessed by a succubus.

As usual, Bob has been insufficiently briefed about his mission, so he’s bewildered most of the time. What is he doing wearing a tuxedo to a casino and ordering vodka martinis (shaken, not stirre... Read More

PLANET OF ADVENTURE: What are you waiting for?

PLANET OF ADVENTURE by Jack Vance

Of the people who pick up a book by Jack Vance, there are only two possible outcomes: those who melt over every word he writes with twinkles in their eyes, and those who bear furled brows for a time before giving up. I don’t know what to say about the latter — different strokes for different folks — but for me, Vance is sci-fi sundae with chocolate swirls. Pure genius. The number of layers his stories operate on, from humor to social commentary, pure imagination to pure adventure, are enough to keep me coming back for more and more. PLANET OF ADVENTURE, or as Vance preferred the series be called, THE TCHAI, is no exception.

The omnibus edition is a compendium of four short novels — City of the Chasch (aka The Chasch), Servants of the Wankh, (aka The Wannek), Read More

The Just City: Plato’s Republic in Atlantis, with Greek gods and robots

The Just City by Jo Walton

When you’re Apollo, son of Zeus, and a nymph prefers to turn herself into a tree rather than have sex with you, you know it’s time to think seriously about the life you’re leading.

After asking his sister Athena why the nymph Daphne didn’t want to have sex with him, a notion that perplexes him initially (for, as a god, Apollo isn’t used to people not wanting to have sex with him) he decides to reincarnate in the body of a newborn child to become a part of Athena’s latest experiment: An actualized version of Plato’s Republic run by people from all human eras who have dreamed of living in Plato’s creation, and populated by thousands of 10-year-old slaves bought at slave markets to be modeled into the perfect citizens of the Republic.

Thus is the just city constituted, a city where “you will become your best selves. You will learn and grow and strive to be excellent.” Read More

Codex: A must-read for Grossman fans

Codex by Lev Grossman

There are disadvantages to finding a trilogy you really love, and they usually surface somewhere between the second and final book. I discovered this whilst waiting for The Magician’s Land to be released, after devouring the first two novels of Grossman’s Magicians series. It was at this point I turned my attention to the rest of Grossman’s literary corpus and discovered a stand-alone novel published five years previously to The Magicians: Codex.

Codex centres around the twenty-something, highly paid investment banker, Edward Wozny. Wozny is a disillusioned, slightly listless New Yorker (sound familiar?) who’s got two weeks off between his high-flying job in New York and his high-flying job in London. He’s spent his entire life working, and now that he actually ha... Read More

Fort Freak: A WILD CARDS novel that can be read as a stand-alone

Fort Freak by George R.R. Martin

Fort Freak is the twenty-first entry in the WILD CARDS universe, a long running series of mosaic novels edited by George R.R. Martin. It is not necessary to have read the previous twenty volumes to read this one; Fort Freak works fine as a standalone. There are numerous references to earlier books and cameos by characters that starred in them, but nothing that makes it absolutely necessary to have read earlier volumes. That is probably a good thing. The WILD CARDS series is currently published by Tor, the fourth publisher to take on this series. Some of the older volumes are pretty hard to find these days. The original WILD CARDS novel (1987) has been reprinted by Tor recently, with a number of new stories added, so if you want to read... Read More

The Barrow: Will have you by the teeth

The Barrow by Mark Smylie

At first glance at the cover and blurb for Mark Smylie’s prose debut The Barrow, you’ll notice that something sets it apart from a significant portion of recent fantasy. There are no warring states, no fight for the throne. There is no greater evil or battle between light and dark. The Barrow, at its heart, is a treasure hunt — an adventure. Sure, it’s got fae and curses, a band of anti-heroes, and a very Dungeons & Dragons-esque feel, but it didn’t feel like the kind of bland story you might expect.

Stjepan Black-Heart and his crew have found a map that will supposedly lead them to an ancient barrow, where they hope to find an equally ancient sword worth an unimaginable sum of money. Among Black-Heart’s crew are Erim, a woman disguised as a man, a very sly brothel owned by the name of Gilgwyr, the archetypal mad magician Leig... Read More

Dwellers in the Mirage: A marvelous fantasy

Dwellers in the Mirage by Abraham Merritt

After taking a brief respite — in the hardboiled yet outre crime thriller Seven Footprints to Satan — from the tales of adventurous fantasy at which he so excelled, Abraham Merritt returned in fine form with Dwellers in the Mirage (1932). In this terrific novel, Merritt revisits many of the themes and uses many of the ingredients that made his first novel, The Moon Pool, such an impressive success. Like that early work, Dwellers features a lost civilization (of the type grandfathered by the great H. Rider Haggard), battling priestesses, civil wars, and otherdimensional creatures (in the earlier book, a light creat... Read More

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