4

Click on stars to FIND REVIEWS BY RATING:
Recommended:
Not Recommended:

Crossroads of Canopy: This new fantasy series is one to watch

Readers’ average rating:

Crossroads of Canopy
by Thoraiya Dyer

The thing I loved most about Crossroads of Canopy, by Thoraiya Dyer, was the elaborate and coherent world she’s created in this new fantasy, Book One in the TITAN’S FOREST trilogy. Published in 2017, Crossroads of Canopy introduces us to a society that lives in a forest, at all elevations, from the Floorians to the Canopians, who are called “Warmed Ones” because they are the only ones to feel the sun directly on their skin. With a complex theology filled with gods who incarnate as humans, a political structure that has secular rulers as well as gods, and a detailed hierarchy that is literal as well as a metaphor, Dyer brings us right into the forest and sets up a convincing adventure for our main character, Unar.

The book is not marketed as Young Adult, but t... Read More

The Tiger and the Wolf: Compelling fusion of shapeshifter lore in a Bronze Age world

Readers’ average rating: 

The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky

The Tiger and the Wolf (2016), just issued in trade paperback format, immerses you a Bronze Age/early Iron Age world, where every human is a shapeshifter. People divide into clans according to the animal they change into, which happens instantly and, for the most part, at will. Their shapeshifting animal informs their clan’s physical appearance as well as the nature of their society. It's a brutal life, with the stronger tribes like Tigers and Wolves fighting for supremacy. Groups like these dominate the weaker clans like the Deer and Boars, using them as subject people, servants and thralls, and even human/animal sacrifices.

In this harsh world, Maniye, a girl of the Winter Runner Wolf tribe in the northern area known as the Crown of the World, grows up isolated and friendless. Though her father is chieftain of the... Read More

I Am Alive and You are Dead: A Journey Into the Mind of Philip K. Dick

Readers’ average rating:

I Am Alive and You are Dead: A Journey Into the Mind of Philip K. Dick by Emmanuel Carrère

Anyone familiar with the SF novels of Philip K. Dick and the many films inspired by his works knows that he was one strange and visionary guy. Certainly the SF genre is filled with works of bizarre worlds, aliens, characters, and slippery reality. But it’s generally accepted by authors and readers alike that these fictional creations are just that — works of the imagination by writers who are generally considered sane and share the consensus view of reality. In the case of PKD, however, the line between reality and fiction, sanity and madness, redemption and damnation, revelation and delusion is very blurred indeed. In fact, the pers... Read More

Time Is the Simplest Thing: Fast-paced and imaginative, with an important message

Readers’ average rating:

Time Is the Simplest Thing by Clifford D. Simak

Written s(i)mack-dab in the middle of the American Civil Rights Movement, Clifford D. Simak’s Time Is the Simplest Thing utilizes the tools of science fiction to make poignant comments on the issues of the day. The novel, the author’s sixth out of an eventual 29, was initially serialized in the May - July 1961 issues of Analog magazine with the equally appropriate title The Fisherman, and went on to be nominated for that year’s Hugo Award. (It lost, to Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger In a Strange Land Read More

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: In search of lost things, including a cat

Readers’ average rating:

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

At first glance, Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is about Toru Okada, a legal assistant who has given up his job in the hope of finding a more fulfilling purpose. Though happily married, his cat, Noboru Wataya, has gone missing. If a missing cat sounds too straightforward for a novel often described as the masterpiece of a man who is often mentioned as a dark horse to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, well, there’s a lot to unpack in this summary. Also, Toru is about to learn that his brother-in-law defiles women and his own marriage with Kumiko is in serious trouble.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle can be interpreted along several lines, but perhaps our struggle to form meaningful rel... Read More

Behind Her Eyes: Twisty thriller with cross-genre appeal

Readers’ average rating: Comment Reviews for this post are disabled. Please enable it first

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Louise is an insecure single mom who, one night, meets and kisses a dashing stranger. She’s mortified the next morning to find that the stranger, David, is now her boss. Her married boss. Then she (literally) bumps into David’s wife, Adele, and the two of them hit it off.

Despite her best friend’s warnings that all of this is a bad idea, Louise falls in deeper: into a full-blown affair with David, and into a close friendship with Adele. In particular, Louise and Adele bond over their shared experience with night terrors.

This triangle is a freight train barreling toward trouble, and Louise soon learns that the stakes might be deadlier, as questions and mysteries lurk beneath the surface of Adele and David’s lives: Who, if anyone, killed Adele’s parents? Who, if an... Read More

Wonders of the Invisible World: Intoxicatingly beautiful fragments

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia McKillip

I love Patricia McKillip’s writing, and was excited to hear she had a short story collection coming out. I really enjoy reading short stories because I think it’s a good measure of what a writer can do – distill down the essential elements of story to a concentrated core of who they are as a writer.

Upon opening the collection I was slightly disappointed to realize that these were all stories that had been previously published, many of which I had read before. However, it was an interesting experience for me to rediscover some of these stories for a second time, and to compare the effect of the stories I had read before to the ones I was reading for the first time.

I thought the first story, “Wonders of the Invisible World,” was t... Read More

Miranda and Caliban: A beautiful melancholy tale

Readers’ average rating: 

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

Miranda and Caliban is a twist on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, ringing one major change on the play: what if Miranda and Caliban were in love?

Our tale begins years before the events of the play; we first meet Miranda as a child, assisting her father Prospero in the ceremonial magic that will bind the “wild boy,” Caliban, and the spirit Ariel to his will. From there, Jacqueline Carey alternates between Miranda’s point of view and Caliban’s, following them as they grow up together. At first, Miranda helps Caliban learn to speak and read; later, when she is stricken by an illness, Caliban helps her. And then when adolescence strikes, the two begin to have forbidden feelings for each other.

Looming o... Read More

Swamplandia!: Wonderfully surreal

Readers’ average rating:

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

It's not often a book manages to maintain the balancing act between reality and fantasy, but Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! (2011) treads the line perfectly. The story opens with Hilola Bigtree, matriarch of the Bigtree family who own Swamplandia!, an alligator-wrestling theme park in the Ten Thousand Islands of the coast of Florida. She performs her nightly stunt of jumping into a lake full of alligators, but it is not this which kills her; she falls victim to the more mundane and arguably tragic battle with cancer. This leaves the Bigtree family — Hilola's three children and husband — to come to terms with their loss and the uncertain fate of Swamplandia!.

Narrating the family's story is our thirteen-year-old protagonist, Ava Bigtree, youngest of the Bigtree clan. At thirteen, Ava should have enough problems to... Read More

All Our Wrong Todays: Struggling to get back to my future

Readers’ average rating: 

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

Tom Barren lives in a near-utopian version of our world in 2016, the world that Disney and science fiction optimistically imagined in the 1950s that we would one day have, complete with flying cars, ray guns, space vacations, and other Amazing Stories and Jetson-like technology. There’s a single compelling reason for this: in 1965, a man named Lionel Goettreider invented an engine that produced unlimited clean energy, in the process giving himself a fatal dose of radiation, but also becoming a historic figure on the level of Albert Einstein or Sir Isaac Newton.

Tom is a disappointment to his father, unsuccessful in life, his career, and love. But his father, a genius who has invented a method of time travel, gives Tom a job in his lab after his wife and Tom’s mother dies, not expecting him to amount to anything. Tom is assigned to... Read More

To Green Angel Tower: Too long, but an exciting finale

Readers’ average rating: 

To Green Angel Tower by Tad Williams

Note: This review will contain spoilers for the previous books.

To Green Angel Tower (1993) is the third book in Tad WilliamsMEMORY, SORROW & THORN trilogy, following The Dragonbone Chair and The Stone of Farewell. This is an extremely popular trilogy, which is why the arrival of a fourth book published a few weeks ago (23 years after To Green Angel Tower was published!) is such a noteworthy event in the fantasy community. In preparation for the new book, The He... Read More

With Blood Upon the Sand: Draws one deeper into an already good story

Readers’ average rating: Comment Reviews for this post are disabled. Please enable it first

With Blood Upon the Sand
by Bradley P. Beaulieu

With Blood Upon the Sand (2017) is the second in Bradley P. Beaulieu’s THE SONG OF THE SHATTERED SANDS series, following up on the excellent Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. The sequel didn’t grab me quite as fully as its predecessor, but it’s quite nearly as good and certainly has me eager to continue reading the series.

So as to avoid spoilers for the first book, I’m going to offer up a relatively brief, vague plot summary. Though I will need to reference characters, so unavoidably you’ll know those folks survived book one. Re... Read More

Shadow, Light, & Steel: Heroic characters light the darkness

Readers’ average rating: 

Shadow, Light & Steel by Robert Rhodes

Shadow, Light, & Steel (2016) is a thoughtful, evocative collection of short fantasy, including six short stories, two essays, and twenty character sketches, glimpses into the hearts and lives of vividly imagined people in other worlds and times. Rob Rhodes’ fiction in this collection is in the heroic fantasy genre, with a visible (and acknowledged) debt to Dungeons and Dragons lore. The main characters in these works are spirited individuals who are challenged, but not beaten, by their circumstances. Whether or not they prevail against adversity, their spirits are undaunted. These are people I would like to read more about, to get to know better, to share an evening’s conversation with by the fire.

Some of the longer stories that I found most memorable:

“To Be a Man:... Read More

The Silver Metal Lover: A book of personal discovery

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee

It's unfortunate that Tanith Lee had to pass away for me to get the jolt of interest needed to read her work. The Silver Metal Lover (1981), one of her most loved works, is a story about an immature love that blossoms into a fully realized one, and about an immature girl who cries too often and falls in love too easily but blossoms into a strong-willed, independent woman. It's a story about Jane, and her relationship with her robot lover, Silver.

Were this tender novel published today, it would be shelved in the Young Adult section of a bookstore, but such a label had yet to be conceived when it was first published in 1981. It features some of the defining characteristics of that genre as well: a dystopic world whose foundations are crumbling (though in Read More

Four Ways to Forgiveness: Slavery, oppression, revolution, and redemption

Readers’ average rating:

Four Ways to Forgiveness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin is hardly afraid to tackle difficult topics. In fact, she delves into them with a fearless but controlled approach that forces us to look at painful subjects we may prefer not to. This time she is going straight for the jugular, exploring the sensitive subjects of freedom, slavery, oppression, sexual politics, and revolution. In the wrong hands this could easily become a heavy-handed polemic that might be unreadable.

However, Le Guin is far too skilled a writer to wield a cudgel — instead, she uses her scalpel to peel away layer after layer of ingrained societal norms as she explores just how human societies are affected by these topics, and leaving no side free of sin but shows how even the slavers victimize themselves as they indo... Read More

New Amsterdam: Forensic sorcery

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear

New Amsterdam is billed as “the hardcover debut” from Elizabeth Bear, who had been winning awards for her short stories and novels before this work was published in 2007. Though not exactly described as such, New Amsterdam is a compilation of six short stories, each connected to and increasingly dependent upon the others as the overarching plot progresses. While each story is ostensibly a mystery which requires investigation and the use of forensic sorcery in order to arrive at each solution, characters and world-building are the primary focus of Bear’s writing. For the most part, this works well, though there are some pieces which could have benefitted fro... Read More

Citadel: A satisfying novel for those familiar with Mosse’s style

Readers’ average rating: Comment Reviews for this post are disabled. Please enable it first

Citadel
by Kate MosseI have a strange relationship with books by Kate Mosse. On the one hand, I love the atmosphere and descriptive qualities of her work — it transports you to the south of France in vivid prose; filled with the sights, sounds and smells of another time and place. She clearly loves the history and ambience of the Languedoc, and every page is filled with sensory detail.

On the other hand, Mosse's plots are slow and rambling, packed full of extraneous details and unnecessary subplots. Often chapters can go by where nothing particularly interesting or important happens, and with a little ruthless editing I'm sure each book's length could be halved.

So is the way her story told worth the story itself? Well, ever... Read More

This Year’s Class Picture: A scene from a zombie apocalypse

Readers’ average rating:

This Year’s Class Picture by Dan Simmons

Sci-fi and horror master Dan Simmons has only one real character in this short story: Ms. Geiss, dedicated fourth-grade teacher extraordinaire. She seems to be one of the very few remaining humans following the frequently mentioned, but never-explained, “Tribulations” that had some role in creating an environment where zombies roam the planet.

This Year’s Class Picture opens rather bluntly:
Ms. Geiss watched her new student coming across the first-graders’ playground from her vantage point on the balcony of the school’s belfry. She lowered the barrel of the Remington .30-06 until the child was centered in the crosshairs of the telescopic sight.
But don’t get Ms. Geiss wrong. All of her students are zombies... Read More

Eye in the Sky: Very early PKD

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Sandy's new review.



Eye in the Sky by Philip K. Dick

Jack Hamilton has just lost his job as an engineer for a government defense contractor because his wife Marsha is a suspected communist sympathizer. Having nothing better to do for the afternoon, he accompanies Marsha to the viewing of a new linear accelerator. An accident at the accelerator beams the Hamiltons and six other unsuspecting citizens into a parallel universe that at first appears to be their world but soon starts to evince subtle differences that become more and more obvious as time goes on. There is some sort of “corny Arab religion” at work — God is all justice and no mercy so, for example, telling a lie brings down an immediate curse such as a bee sting.

There are miracles here that can be taken advantage of, such as a cigarette machine that Jack, a darn ... Read More

Ender’s Shadow: Ender’s Game from Bean’s perspective

Readers’ average rating:

Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game was a SF book so successful and critically acclaimed that it launched Orson Scott Card’s career for decades to come. In fact, it’s fair to say that the story of Ender Wiggins is one of the most popular SF novels the genre has ever produced, to the point of getting the full-budget Hollywood treatment in 2013 (grossing $125 million on a budget of around $110-115 million) with A-listers such as Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley, but receiving mixed critical reviews.

Not one to miss a commercial opportunity, Card has returned the favor, producing a whopping 15 Ender-related books with more in the works apparently. I read Ender’s Game Read More

The City of Ice: Still slow moving, but a worthy follow-up in a fascinating series

Readers’ average rating:

The City of Ice by K.M. McKinley

I was going to start out this review of K.M. McKinley’s The City of Ice (2016) by saying that I could pretty much cut and paste the first paragraph of my review of its predecessor The Iron Ship, since it matched exactly what I’d say about The City of Ice. But then I realized why say I could when I actually can do that. So here it is, with some edits.

The Iron Ship City of Ice is a sprawling, slow build of a story that mostly follows the POV exploits of five siblings whose stories generally wend their own way. With its large cast, ... Read More

Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa

Readers’ average rating:

Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa by Haruki Murakami

Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa (2016) is an edited transcript of several conversations between Haruki Murakami, the novelist, and Seiji Ozawa, the conductor.

I came to this book as a fan of Murakami’s writing, as many of this site’s readers would. SFF readers may be disappointed to read that these conversations rarely touch on writing, let alone the imagined mirror worlds that give a haunting quality to his novels. Instead, they focus on Ozawa’s memories about his peers like fellow conductor Robert Mann or famous performers like Glenn Gould, of composers like Beethoven and Mahler, and of the day-to-day challenges of m... Read More

Lagoon: I loved it as soon as I saw the swordfish

Readers’ average rating:

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

I thought I was going to love Nnedi Okorafor’s novel Lagoon (2014) when I read the first chapter, from the point of view of a swordfish. She is not just any swordfish; she is an eco-warrior. Through her eyes, we see the arrival of extra-terrestrials into the lagoon of Lagos, the Nigerian capital. And from that point on I was never disappointed.

Lagoon does not spend too much time with the swordfish, although we do see her again a few times. The main characters are three people who end up at the Bar Beach shortly after the beings from another place have landed, and these three become the spokes-humans for the visitors. They are Adaora, a marine biologist, mother of two and wife to a troubled husband; Agu, a soldier who has recently been in trouble with his command; and Anthony Dey Craze, a successful rapper... Read More

Invisible Cities: Philosophical sketches of imaginary cities

Readers’ average rating:

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino has long been on my list of foreign writers of the fantastic who have been deeply influential to SFF writers while remaining only tangential to the genre. This would include the great Jorge Luis Borges, as well as Stanislaw Lem. All these writers revel in philosophical musings, magic realism, and intellectual play. They belong to the deeper end of the fantastic literature swimming pool, but adventurous readers and authors have often plunged into those depths to one degree or another.

Invisible Cities was first published in Italian in 1972 but appeared in English in 1974 and was a surprise nominee for the Nebula Award in 1976. It is a unique and al... Read More

Crown of Midnight: A superior sequel to a ho-hum first installment

Readers’ average rating:

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

I was about three chapters into Crown of Midnight when I realized it was a sequel — after that it was a matter of tracking down Throne of Glass, catching myself up, and returning with a better understanding of the characters and situation. As it happens, I was a little lukewarm when it came to Throne of Glass, but I ended up much preferring this story to its predecessor.

Celaena Sardothien is the royal assassin to a king she despises, so it's just as well she's never actually killed anyone on his orders. Instead she fakes their deaths and helps them escape the kingdom of Adarlan, though she knows if she's ever found out she'll forfeit her own life — and those of her loved ones at court.

B... Read More