The Hundred Thousand Kingdomsby N.K. Jemisin
In The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, we have an inventive reworking of some excellent themes of political fantasy. It’s not cliché, but there are pieces and scraps of it that indicate a long and cozy relationship with the genre. There’s a young warrior-woman out to get revenge. There’s a corrupt ruling class ripe for the toppling. There’s a battle for the throne. There’s a religious order hiding a Deep Dark Secret. But out of these familiar elements, N.K. Jemisin makes something entirely her own.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (those who fear drowning in dozens of made-up country-names can relax. We never really interact with more than three of the supposed hundred thousand nations) are ruled by the corrupt and all-powerful Arameri family. The Arameri were the lucky beneficiaries of the Gods’ War,... Read More
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The Hundred Thousand Kingdomsby N.K. Jemisin
Bill, the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison
I once met a woman in a bookstore who was in the process of buying Harry Harrison's 1965 classic Bill, the Galactic Hero. She told me that she'd read it many times already, and that it was the funniest book ever. Well, I've never forgotten that conversation, and had long been meaning to ascertain whether or not this woman was right. It took me almost 20 years to get around to this book, but having just finished Bill, the Galactic Hero, I must say that it is very amusing indeed.
In it, we meet Bill (no last name is ever provided), a simple farm lad on Phigerinadon II, who is shanghaied into the galactic emperor's army to fight in the war against the lizardlike Chingers. And what a grueling odyssey Bill goes through before all is said and done! He experiences a boot camp from hell, serves aboard the starship Christine Keeler and is almost killed, gets lost on the plane... Read More
The House of Souls: The Best of Arthur Machen by Arthur Machen
I had been wanting to check out Arthur Machen's 1906 collection of short stories, entitled The House of Souls, for quite some time; ever since I had read two highly laudatory pieces written about this work and its author. The first was H.P. Lovecraft's comments in his widely referred to essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature," in which he claims "Of living creators of cosmic fear raised to its most artistic pitch, few if any can hope to equal the versatile Arthur Machen." And, in Jones & Newman's excellent overview volume Horror: 100 Best Books, T.E.D. Klein, in his essay on The House... Read More
Runaways: Pride & Joy (Vol. 1) by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) and Adrian Alphona (pencils)
What do you do when you find out your parents aren’t who you thought they were? Brian K. Vaughan deals with ages-old drama of teenagers confronting the fallibility of their parents in an interesting and exciting way. Though most of us have never discovered that our parents are part of a super-villain syndicate that includes a couple of crime lords who put Kingpin to shame — as well as mutants, aliens, time travelers, sorcerers, and mad scientists — most people can remember the day they realized that their parents are human and fallible, and maybe just a bit hypocritical. While most teenagers feel at some point that their parents are evil, Vaughan’s fantastic teenage heroes know their parents are EVIL. We follow them in this first volum... Read More
The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson
[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]
Jeanette Winterson is the author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Sexing the Cherry and Passion. She writes beautiful prose about fascinating characters, some of whom really existed, and there is always an element of magic or the fantastical in her work. Her latest book, The Daylight Gate, is set in Lancashire, England, early in the 17th century, and reimagines the infamous Pendle Hill witch trials, focusing her storyteller’s lens most closely on the character of Alice Nutter.
Alice Nutter, a real-life person, was a wealthy, land-owning widow who was tried for witchcra... Read More
Tales from Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin
In 1972 Ursula Le Guin completed The Farthest Shore and felt the EARTHSEA series was finished at three books. However, in 1994 she published Tehanu:The Last Book of Earthsea in an attempt to revise the gender and social roles she’d laid out in that original trilogy. Based on the title, this too was supposed to be the be-all, end-all. Apparently not satisfying enough; 2001 saw Le Guin publishing two additional books in the EARTHSEA CYCLE, The Other Wind and Tales from Earthsea, that both complement and redress the original books. The former rounds out the entirety of Earthsea’s story into a nice whole, the latter is a collection of short stories that fills certain gaps Le Guin identified in Earthsea’s mythos. Here is a loose breakdown of those stories.
“The Finder” — The opening story in the collection tells of the boy Otter, his im... Read More
Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon
In the 1978 horror movie Martin, writer/director George A. Romero presented us with a young man who enjoys killing people and drinking their blood, but who may or may not be a so-called "vampire"; the film is wonderfully ambiguous all the way down the line on that score. Seventeen years before Martin skulked through the dreary suburbs of Pittsburgh, however, another unconventional vampire was given to the world, in the pages of Theodore Sturgeon's Some of Your Blood. (Actually, an apology may be in order right now, as that last is a bit of a spoiler; the sanguinary habits of the central character of Sturgeon's novel are only revealed toward the story's conclusion. However, seeing that the back cover of the book's current incarnation, the one from Millipede Press, gives away even more spoiler details than this, perhaps I may be excused here.)
Theodore Sturgeon, of course, is a writer... Read More
Silver Surfer: Rebirth of Thanos and The Infinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin
If you are at all interested in the villain haunting the cosmic portion of the Marvel Universe, then you might want to check out these two titles: Silver Surfer: Rebirth of Thanos and The Infinity Gauntlet. Both are trade collections that tell one grand story of the power-hungry Titan known as Thanos. You've seen his big, scheming smile on his enormous purple face at the end of The Avengers, and you are going to see more and more of it in the coming years as Hollywood embraces a new villain in space: Darth Vadar, please stand aside, here comes Thanos!
Silver Surfer: Rebirth of Thanos starts with so... Read More
Copperhead by Tina Connolly
Copperhead is the second in Tina Connolly’s Bronte-themed fantasy novels. In the first, Ironskin, Jane Eliot, badly scarred during England’s war with the Fey, worked as a governess for the artist Mr. Rochart. Jane uncovered the Fey Queen’s plot to possess the wives of the richest and most powerful men in London — wives who had all had their faces re-made to match ethereal Fey beauty. Jane’s own sister Helen Huntingdon was one of the women who had a magical face-lift.
Jane managed to save Helen from possession. The Fey Queen was defeated and the non-corporeal Fey are in disarray. Now, though, bits of Fey drift through London like sinister flower petals. All of the One Hundred, those who had their faces changed, must wear iron masks when they go outside to avoid the risk of possession. Iron repels ... Read More
Mort by Terry Pratchett
Mort is the fourth of Terry Pratchett’s DISCWORLD novels. It stands alone, meaning that you don’t need to read the previous novels to enjoy Mort. It’s better than the previous novels, too, so it might be a good place for new readers to start.
Mortimer is a naïve but pensive — and therefore slightly odd — young man who doesn’t fit in with his farming community. It looks like he’s going to be jobless until Death arrives and chooses him as an apprentice. Why does Death need an apprentice? He has become bored with his immortal life and wants to travel to Ankh-Morpork so he can experience some humanity.
After only a little bit of training, Mort is left in charge. His job is to collect the souls of people who are about to depart the mortal world. When Mort becomes infatuated with a princess who’s about to die, he can’t stop himself from interfering with her... Read More
Invaders from Earth by Robert Silverberg
There is apparently a marked difference in the novels that sci-fi great Robert Silverberg wrote before 1967 and the ones he penned from '67 to eight or nine years after. Those two dozen novels of the 1954-'65 period, it has been said, are well-written, polished, plot-driven tales reminiscent of the pulp era of sci-fi's Golden Age. But after author/editor Frederik Pohl gave Silverberg freedom to write as he chose in '67, a new, more mature, more literate quality entered Silverberg's work, and the two dozen novels that he wrote during this second phase of his career are often cited as his best. Having just completed seven books from this late '60s/mid-'70s period, I was curious to check out one of the author's earlier works, just for comparative purposes.
At random, I selected 1958's Invaders From Earth, Silverberg's... Read More
Not Less Than Gods by Kage Baker
Fans of THE COMPANY novels of Kage Baker — the series that began with In the Garden of Iden and features the redoubtable Mendoza, along with other immortals and secret societies — need to know no more than that this novel comprises the back story of Edward Alton Fairfax-Bell.
Edward Alton Fairfax-Bell is a foundling, the bastard son of noble parents who had a tryst in 1924. He was adopted as an infant by a family suffering from the loss of their own infant son, but rejected by his adoptive mother, and therefore essentially raised by servants. At the age of 11, he is taken under the care of Dr. Nennys, the headmaster of a boarding school to which he is quickly ushered. He does well, grows to a very tall manhood (just shy of seven feet, in fact), and joins the Navy. Unfortunately, the Navy doesn’t quite meet his ideals, but is full of bounders and scoundrels — one of wh... Read More
Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines
I don’t really enjoy reading about superheroes. While it may be fun to read about Superman or Batman kicking ass and taking names against enemies far less powerful, I usually lean toward reading about flawed heroes or at least ones that can die. Having a hero like Superman, who’s nigh-invulnerable, removes the element of tension and the thrilling feeling you get when the hero is in danger. On that basis, I was hesitant to read Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines, but Mihir at Fantasy Book Critic convinced me otherwise.
Zombies and superheroes – two themes that are everywhere in modern film and literature. Man of Steel, The Dark Knight, the first two seasons of The Walking Dead, World War Z Read More
The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Dark of Deep Below by Patrick Rothfuss (story) and Nate Taylor (art)
Author Patrick Rothfuss and artist Nate Taylor have teamed up again to bring us another picture book about the princess who lives in a marzipan castle and her stuffed teddy bear named Mr. Whiffle. You don’t need to have read the first book, The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed (reviewed by Justin) to enjoy their latest adventure.
In The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Dark of Deep Below, the princess, whose background we know nothing about, has somehow acquired a baby brother. The princess isn’t too impressed with the boy for several reasons — he’s noisy, he’s perpet... Read More
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
Who Fears Death is a wild combination of fantasy, post-apocalyptic science fiction, and West African mythology. It is about race, genocide, and retribution. It is about the longest war. It is one of the most brutally, terribly real fantasy books I have ever read. There are no fairy godmothers here — no bumbling, comic companions, no neatly-disposed-of villains, no princes in hiding who fall in love with the heroine and get conveniently restored to their rightful thrones. Instead, there is only a vast Saharan wasteland dotted with the technological wreckage of a previous era, and a lingering sense of vengeful anger.
The narrative defies a neat knitting-together. It begins in a dystopic sub-Saharan Africa, where a genocidal war has begun between races. Onyesonwu, our heroine, is conceived in a brutal ac... Read More