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The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch: A good mind twist

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick

Perhaps Dick’s most misunderstood book, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is not wholly an examination of the reality of reality. Despite that the characters’ experiences often transcend concrete objectivity, the book is more than metaphysics. It is an exploration of morality, and if may be surmised from the parallel events of Dick’s own life, perhaps even an act of catharsis.

The universe of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is not as we know it. Global warming has turned Antarctica into a beach and humans inhabit the solar system. Colonists living on other planets — often drafted like soldiers to leave Earth — participate in communal fantasies augmented by a drug called Can-D to escape the spiritual desolation of their lives. Channeled through Perky Pat and Walt dolls (like Barbie and Ken), the dolls,... Read More

Horrible Monday: The End of the Sentence by Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard

The End of the Sentence by Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard

Malcolm Mays is very close to the end of his rope. After the collapse of his terrible marriage, after a horrific tragedy, he has spent close to his last dollars on a house in rural Ione, Oregon. His first sight of the house confirms that there’s plenty of work to be done, but also that there’s something good to work with. When he opens the front door to his new home for the first time, he finds a huge pile of mail written to the dead owner of the house from an inmate at the federal prison two hundred miles away in Salem. As he explores the house, he receives a letter from the prison himself, delivered, apparently, without the need for a postal worker or any other human agent. The letter is from Dusha Chuchonnyhoof, who tells him that there will be a plate set out for him in the icebox, and flowers beside the bed. It is too long, Dusha says, since he was in that house; he’s bee... Read More

Fool’s Assassin: Good, but a little slow

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

I have some mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I’m tremendously pleased that Hobb is writing Fitz again. He is and remains (for me at least) her most entertaining protagonist, and represents a return to form following what I believe to be her experimentation in the SOLDIER SON TRILOGY in particular. And the book is good. So far at least, Hobb has managed to resist her tried-and-true soul-splitting motif, and we get a complete human being to follow. Hobb depicts his life with sterling characterization and subtle nuance, reminding me why she is considered one of the best (possibly even the best) in the fantasy genre when it comes to introspective narratives. During the first third to half of the novel, this was enough. In the second portion, though, I admit that I found myself increasingly concerned at how slowly Hobb was building events.

Now, let’s be clear: Hobb has nev...

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Schemers: Stories of complex plans and gut wrenching betrayals

Schemers by Robin D. Laws (editor)

Schemers is a collection of short stories by an excellent list of authors: Jesse Bullington, Tobias Buckell, Ekaterina Sedia, Jonathan L. Howard, Nick Mamatas, Elizabeth A. Vaughan, Tania Hershman, Kyla Lee Ward, Robyn Seale, Laura Lush, Molly Tanzer, John Helfers, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, and Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer.  These are stories of complex plans and gut wrenching betrayals. It is a great theme for a collection of short stories.... Read More

Garrett for Hire: Collects three Garrett, P.I. adventures

Garrett for Hire by Glen Cook

Garrett for Hire is an omnibus edition of three books in Glen Cook’s popular GARRETT, P.I. series. These books are Deadly Quicksilver Lies, Petty Pewter Gods and Faded Steel Heat, books seven, eight and nine in the series, respectively. However, because each book fairly stands alone, I never felt that I was missing out on any important details by joining the series at the halfway point. Nor did I feel like I could have used a bit more background to fully appreciate the characters, events or location. Therefore, don’t let the fact that this omnibus isn’t comprised of books one, two and three keep you from reading it.

Garrett for Hire reads like a noir novel with a little bit of a Read More

The Stonehenge Gate: Jack Williamson’s final novel

The Stonehenge Gate by Jack Williamson

What do you plan to do when you're 97 years old? Me? If I'm fortunate enough to attain to that ripe old age, I suppose I will be eating pureed Gerber peaches and watching Emma Peel reruns on my TV set in the nursing home ... IF I'm lucky. For sci-fi Grand Master Jack Williamson, the age of 97 meant another novel, his 50th or so, in a writing career that stretched back 77 years (!), to his first published story, "The Metal Man," in 1928. Sadly, the novel in question, 2005's The Stonehenge Gate, would be the author's last, before his passing in November 2006. Impressively, the novel is as exciting, lucid, readable and awe inspiring as anything in Williamson's tremendous oeuvre. Few authors had as long and productive a career as Jack Williamson, and I suppose it really is true what they say regarding practice... Read More

Martian Time-Slip: In the upper echelon of Dick novels

Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick

It’s easy to be skeptical when you crack open a book by Philip K. Dick; his output is hit or miss. The psychotic craziness of Dick’s personal life so often leaked into his writing that on more than one occasion his work features plots and themes derailed by a chaos seemingly external to the text. In the moments Dick was able to focus his drug and paranoia-fueled energies into a synergistic story, the sci-fi world benefited. Martian Time-Slip, just falling shy in quality to The Man in the High Castle or A Scanner Darkly, is one of these occasions.

The setting is Mars thousands of years in the future when the red planet is experiencing its second wave of civilization. The Bleekmen (Dick’s less than subtle name for Africans) are being pushed to the wastelands while those of European descent terraform the planet ... Read More

Maddigan’s Fantasia: A futuristic steampunk adventure

Maddigan’s Fantasia by Margaret Mahy

Early in the 22nd century, the world underwent a vast and radical change, in which the tectonic plates of the Earth shifted and a series of devastating earthquakes changed the face of the planet. As a result of these events now known as the Great Chaos the population has severely dropped and most technology has been lost. What remains is a dangerous wilderness where communities are isolated and bandits roam the unmapped highways.

Yet out of the ashes of the old world comes Solis, the shining city. It is here that the circus troupe known as Maddigan's Fantasia spends each winter before heading out every year to explore new lands, collect lost knowledge and spread some colour and joy to those living in a post-apocalyptic world.

But this year things are different. Because Solis is powered by the sun, it is in desperate need of a new solar converter if the... Read More

Stone Mattress: Nine new tales from Margaret Atwood

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is hardly an unappreciated author. Booker winner, seemingly constant nominee for the Orange and Booker prizes, Harvard Arts Medal, Orion Book Award, and the list goes on. But one thing I’d say she doesn’t get enough credit for is her humorous touch, which can be scathingly, bitingly funny, and which is on frequent display in her newest collection of short stories, Stone Mattress: Nine Tales.

The anthology is comprised of nine “tales” (in the afterword, Atwood explains why she prefers that descriptor), the first three of which — “Alphinland”, “Revenant”, and “Dark Lady” are tightly linked by character and events. The others are independent, though they do share some similar themes and characters — vengeance, the travails (and pleasures) of aging, a deliciously macabre tone. Like nearly all such collections, some stories ... Read More

The Secret History of Fantasy: Stories that redefine the genre

The Secret History of Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle

The basic premise of the SECRET HISTORY anthologies (there's also a science fiction one, The Secret History of Science Fiction, which I haven't read) is that there's a type of writing that got missed or buried because other things were more popular, more commercial, or dodged the spec-fic labeling. Certainly that's the thrust of Peter S. Beagle's introduction, and the two other non-fiction pieces by Ursula K. Le Guin and editor David G. Hartwell.

In the case of fantasy, this type ... Read More

Star-Begotten: A “must read” for thinking adults

Star-Begotten by H.G.Wells

Released 39 years after his seminal sci-fi novel The War of the Worlds was published in 1898, and just two years before Orson Welles scared the bejeebers out of U.S. listeners with his radio play of that same novel, 1937's Star-Begotten finds its author, H.G. Wells, returning to the Red Planet to tell us more about those mysterious and pesky Martians. Written when Wells was 71, this latter work — rather than being a tale of action and mayhem and a truly groundbreaking instance of the then-still-new science fiction (or, to use the term that Wells preferred, "scientific romances") — is more a novel of ideas and speculation, of satire and bitter condemnation, and, I have a feeling, is a largely unknown work today. And that is a shame, as it is obviously a deeply felt work; an appeal to reason in a... Read More

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August: An excellent take on the reborn-lives concept

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

I’m not sure what’s been in the air lately, but it seems I’ve been reading a lot of books this past year dealing with reincarnation/being reborn. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is yet another of those, and while it isn’t my favorite of the ones I’ve read with similar ideas (that would be either Life After Life by Kate Atkinson or The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell), I thoroughly enjoyed Claire North’s novel, though the first half was better than its second half.

In the world of Harry August, a small group of people (called Kalachakra or ouroborans, after the worm that eats its own tail) are born, live their lives, ... Read More

The Magician’s Land: Let it breathe

The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise about The Magician’s Land, the third installment in Lev Grossman’s MAGICIANS trilogy is its map. The first two books, which I read on a Kindle, didn’t have maps. This one did, and it’s great.

What I like about this map, entitled “The Worlds of Quentin Coldwater,” is that it’s not actually very cartographic. It lacks a legend, it does not show Fillory from the point of view of a flying dragon, and it does not list countries. In other words, the world has not been limited, so there’s plenty of room for imagination and exploration. A careful study of the map will reveal very little about which lands our heroes will visit or what will happen to them there.

And it’s a fitting introduction to The Magician’s Land.

The Ma... Read More

Acceptance: Returns to Area X

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Jeff VanderMeer’s first two books in his SOUTHERN REACH series, Annihilation and Authority, end up on my top ten list for the year, so it was with great excitement and high expectations that I opened up Acceptance, the third and final book of the trilogy. Having finished, I can’t honestly say those expectations were wholly met, though my lack of satisfaction has less to do with any real complaints about the novel itself and more about the question I had at the end, which was, if it was still a good novel, was it a necessary one? Thinking about it a day later, I’m still not sure about the answer to that.

While I’m going to try as much as possible to avoid spoilers for Acceptance (which admittedly may make this ... Read More

Engraved on the Eye: Ahmed writes what he knows

Engraved on the Eye by Saladin Ahmed

The first story in Saladin Ahmed’s Engraved on the Eye is about the meeting of the two main characters in his novel Throne of the Crescent Moon, and I liked it enough that it inspired me to look for the novel. I can see what the critical fuss is about: Ahmed writes smoothly and well, has interesting protagonists, and makes their choices matter.

Early on in the collection, it looked as if all the protagonists were going to be young Muslims struggling with faith and ethical choices as well as with life, but later in the book we got a couple of stories where this wasn't the case (and another where it was). In all but the last story, though, a well-told sword-and-sorcery tale with an unusual ending (for sword-and-sorcery), the main character was either Muslim, a member of an ethnic minority, or both. "Write what you know" is good writing advice,... Read More

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