Iron Night by M.L. Brennan
I really like it when an author can keep a character from growing stagnant. It’s not always obvious that it’s happening, but it’s very impressive when the author has enough vision to avoid it. In Iron Night, the second book in the GENERATION V series by M.L. Brennan, Fortitude Scott is a wonderful example of a main character that keeps growing.
Fortitude Scott has not given up on remaining as human as he can for as long as he can. After the drama and partial transformation that took place as a result of his heroic efforts to save innocent children from a terrible monster, it’s harder to do than ever before. After losing his job, getting a new room-mate and breaking up with his cheating manipulative girlfriend, the sky is the limit.
Fort is being expected to take a more active role in his mo... Read More
Iron Night by M.L. Brennan
Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton
Sargasso of Space is the opening novel in Andre Norton's so-called DANE THORSON (SOLAR QUEEN) series, and is a fine introduction to the books that follow. In this first volume we meet Dane Thorson, a young cargo-apprentice who is assigned (by mechanical Psycho selection) to the trader ship Solar Queen. The crew of the Queen pools its earnings and wins an entire planet, sight unseen, at auction. (Perhaps Ebay will be conducting auctions such as this in 50 or so years!) The crew then explores this strange planet, called Limbo, and discovers the remnants of a lost civilization, as well as globular natives, space pirates, mysterious artifacts and so on.
Ostensibly written for juveniles and "young adults," this novel has a strong appeal for "grown-ups" as well. Not for nothing has Ms. Norton become one of the most popular of all SFF writers, selling kajillions of books and endear... Read More
Dreams of Terror and Death: The Dream Cycle of H.P. Lovecraft H.P. Lovecraft
In the mood for some Eldritch horror? Feel like steeping yourself in Lovecraft’s frightening nihilistic dream worlds? Want to be read to by some of the world’s best story readers? Then give Blackstone Audio’s version of Dreams of Terror and Death: The Dream Cycle of H.P. Lovecraft a try. It collects Lovecraft’s entire Dream Cycle in 20 hours of high-quality audio narrated by some of my favorite readers including Robertson Dean, Simon Vance, Sean Runnette, Elijah Alexander, Stefan Rudnicki, Bronson Pinchot, Simon Prebble, Tom Weiner, Malcolm Hillgartner, and Patrick Cullen.
Here are the stories. (I’ve linked them to the excellent Lovecraft Archive where you can read them for free since they’re in the public domain, but please consider this audio version, because it’s really excellent):
The Spiral Labyrinth by Matthew Hughes
Henghis Hapthorn, who we met in Majestrum, is back. Actually, he’s not really back, he’s forward, because after solving the mystery of the disappearance of a man who went to look at a spaceship for sale, Henghis finds himself in a future Dying Earth where magic has replaced the role of reason in the universe. It seems he’s been drawn there by some malevolent force that wants something from him. In this future Earth, Henghis contends with warring wizards, fire-breathing dragons, and a very nasty luminous fungus. Will he be able to get back to his proper time and place?
Fortunately, Hapthorn is not alone. He has his computer which has turned into an argumentative fruit-eating feline pet, and a sentient sword which is eager to be drawn and brandished at any potential threat. Unfortunately, Henghis’ intuitive alternate psyche, who prefers to be called Osk Rievor, is missing and Henghis,... Read More
Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne Valente
I read the first few chapters of this novella as an act of faith, because Valente has earned my trust as a reader, and because Silently and Very Fast has an award and nomination list longer than most people’s entire short stories (it won the Locus Award for Best Novella, and was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards). So I waded through dense cyber-fairytale imagery on the assumption that it would resolve itself into a story. It did. A very, very good one.
It’s difficult to find the beginning of Silently and Very Fast; it’s one of those Ouroboros stories which loops and curls until it’s eating its own tail. At some point, it becomes clear that your narrator is Elefsis, a self-aware program that lives in the consciousness of the Uoya-Agostino family in a future version of Hokkaido. Elefsis is passed down through the generations in a surgically-i... Read More
Majestrum by Matthew Hughes
Majestrum is a relatively short science fantasy set in our own far-future universe which has been colonized far and wide by humans from Old Earth. The protagonist, Henghis Hapthorn, is a “discriminator” (“he unravels conundrums, picks apart puzzles, uncovers enigmas”) who uses his keen logical skills to solve mysteries.
But some strange stuff is going on: Mr Hapthorn's integrator (a sentient computer which assists him in his work) has recently donned flesh and blood and become more like a familiar than a computer. Also, the small intuitive part of Henghis's psyche has suddenly asserted itself as a separate personality which shares Henghis's brain and body. These occurrences seem to indicate that sympathetic association (magic), which waxes and wanes across the eons, is now rising again. And soon Henghis Hapthorn's double personality and his familiar find themselves hunt... Read More
Conquest by John Connolly & Jennifer Ridyard
At first, Conquest by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard reminded me of a blend of Gene Roddenberry’s Earth; the Final Conflict, and the history of the Roman Empire. The Roddenberry sense comes from the descriptions of the aliens who conquer Earth; tall, slender and graceful, some with shaven heads, and a melodic, trilling name, the Illyri. By the second chapter, though, I felt firmly grounded in Roman conquest, as Andrus, the Illyri governor of Earth, and his primary general discuss an attack at an Illyri fortress, presumably by the human Resistance. The “Roman outpost” feeling is helped along by the settings, first Edinburgh and later the Scottish Highlands.
The Illyri adults we follow in this YA adventure have a nagging sense of something rotten back at the heart of the Empire, through the ... Read More
Carnacki the Ghost Finder by William Hope Hodgson
British author William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki the Ghost-Finder first saw the light of day in 1913. Consisting of six short stories, drawn from the pages of The Idler and The New Magazine, the collection was ultimately expanded to include nine stories, the last three being discovered after Hodgson's early death at age 40 in April 1918. In this fascinating group of tales, we meet Thomas Carnacki, a sort of occult investigator in Edwardian London. Just as Carnacki seems to be patterned on a similar fictional psychic investigator of the time, Algernon Blackwood's John Silence, a casual reading of the Carnacki stories will reveal the influence that Hodgson's Sistrand Manuscript, Outer Monstrosities and "electric pentacle" defense had on later authors such as Read More
The Blue World by Jack Vance
What’s to be said about Jack Vance that hasn’t already been said? The man is simply one of the most imaginative writers of the 20th century. His sci-fi fantasy styled adventures are deceptively simple, but the complexity of being human hides just below the surface, rearing its head in profound fashion in the middle of all the humor and fun. Vance’s 1966 The Blue World is no different.
Our hero, Sklar Hast, is an assistant hoodwink living on Tranque Float. Not a con or charlatan, Hast literally winks the hoods — in more complex Morse Code fashion — of the communicator devices located on the floats of their lily-pad archipelago, passing news between themselves. At the outset of the story, Sklar’s life is relatively simple. He sits in when the master hoodwink is away, teaching appre... Read More
Grandville by Bryan Talbot
Exquisite, fantastical artwork lifts Grandville out of the ordinary. Bryan Talbot’s graphic novel, set in an alternate fantasy world where homo sapiens sapiens is not the dominant species, and Napoleon won the Peninsular Wars, is a true luxury to read, due mostly to the stunning, vividly executed pictures.
But Napoleon? Napoleon, probably the third of that name, is a lion. Archie LeBrock, the Scotland Yard Detective-Inspector who is our hero, is a badger and his sergeant is a rat.
In Talbot’s lushly realized steampunk world, France dominates Europe. Britain was a French possession, but British rebels engaged in terrorism and managed to wrest the island’s freedom away from Napoleon. The people of France hate and distrust the Brits and fear another terrorist attack, especially in light of a deadly assault on the Robida Tower two years previously, where an... Read More
Jingo by Terry Pratchett
Sam Vimes has changed a great deal since he was introduced in Guards! Guards!, the first DISCWORLD novel to feature the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork. He has given up booze, he is happily married, and he is now wealthy. The Watch has grown under his leadership as well. Its ranks now include werewolves, gargoyles, dwarves, trolls, and even zombies. As Commander, Vimes should devote most of his time to paperwork, but he prefers to spend his time on the streets, which have grown restless.
War is at hand. Tensions begin when Solid Jackson and his son discover an island rising out of the sea while they are fishing for Curious Squid. Both Ankh-Morpork and ... Read More
The Bread We Eat in Dreams by Catherynne Valente
The Bread We Eat in Dreams contains thirty-five of Catherynne Valente’s short stories and novellas, caught out in the wild and arranged neatly for the paying public. Ranging from delicate, herbivorous poems to novella-sized megafauna, these creatures display the ecological diversity of the Phylum of the Fantastic and the continued resonance of the Kingdom of Myth. For gentlemen-scientists and enthusiastic students of all things speculative, Valente’s story-menagerie is worth the visit.
Thirty-five stories cannot be summarized in any meaningful sense, particularly when they are such willful, strange, and wild stories. There are warped retellings of fairytales — at least one witch plucks an apple from a tree, and little red riding hood has grown awfully postmodern and bitter over the years (“The Red Girl”). There are dystopian future-worlds ruled by women with a hundred ha... Read More
The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat
My ongoing attempt to read all 200 books spotlighted in Stephen Jones’s and Kim Newman's two excellent overview volumes, Horror: 100 Best Books and Horror: Another 100 Best Books, has led me to some fairly unusual finds. Case in point: Sadegh Hedayat's The Blind Owl, which is — or so claims the Grove Press edition currently in print--"the most important work of modern Iranian literature." Originally published in Bombay in 1937 under the Persi... Read More
Super Dinosaur (Vol. 1) by Robert Kirkman (writer) and Jason Howard (artist)
Super Dinosaur is a fun, fast read for kids. I bought this one for my eight-year-old son, and he devoured it in only two sittings. He took breaks only to run over to me to show me his favorite pictures and dialogue. Though the book is no work of genius for kids — as is Bone by Jeff Smith — it certainly reaches its intended audience. Robert Kirkman — author of The Walking Dead, the horror comic books on which the TV show is based — clearly wanted to write for a younger audience, and he succeeds with this first volume of Super Dinosaur.
Jus... Read More
All You Zombies: Five Classic Stories by Robert A. Heinlein by Robert A. Heinlein
All You Zombies: Five Classic Stories by Robert A. Heinlein is a short (3 hours) audio collection of five speculative fiction stories written by Robert A. Heinlein and read by Spider Robinson. I like it a lot. This is a diverse set of tales (fantasy, science fiction, magic realism) that display some of Heinlein’s favorite themes as well as some aspects of Heinlein’s imagination that you may miss if you’ve read only his more popular novels. Here are the stories in All You Zombies:
“All You Zombies” — (first published in the magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1958) A man in a bar is telling his strange story to the bartender. It involves a lonely orphan girl, a hermaphrodite, a sex change, and a kidnapped baby. And then it gets stranger. And since it’s Heinlein, there’s even some incest, but of the weirdest ... Read More