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The Currents of Space: “It’s a rather complicated story”

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The Currents of Space by Isaac Asimov

The Currents of Space, the third entry in Isaac Asimov’s loosely linked GALACTIC EMPIRE trilogy, is a prequel of sorts to book 1, 1950’s Pebble in the Sky, and a sequel of sorts to book 2, 1951’s The Stars, Like Dust, and if you by any chance find that statement a tad confusing, trust me, that is the very least of the complexities that this book dishes out! The Currents of Space originally appeared serially in the October - December 1952 issues of Read More

The Reluctant Queen: Retraces some steps while starting new paths

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Reposting to include Tadiana's new review:

The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst

The Reluctant Queen (2017), the second in Sarah Beth Durst’s QUEENS OF RENTHIA trilogy, follows quite closely on the heels of The Queen of Blood and reveals the consequences of Daleina’s unexpected rise to power as the Queen of Aratay. This series is meant to be read in sequence, so there will be some mild inevitable spoilers for The Queen of Blood.

Just six months after her bloody coronation, Daleina has a large problem on her hands: she is dying, which means that her control over Aratay’s spirits is weakening, which... Read More

The Backstagers Act: 1: A fantastical space for the weird kid in all of us

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The Backstagers Act: 1 by James Tynion IV (author) & Rian Sygh (artist)

Behind the scenes of the drama club, there is a labyrinth of rooms and hallways filled with creepy critters and questionable sofas alike – that is the world of The Backstagers Act: 1 (2107). The inhabitants design and build the sets and props for the actors of the drama club and are all but forgotten in their backstage rooms. The Backstagers not only cater to the needs of the drama club but have their own adventures out of sight and out of mind of the rest of the school. It’s the perfect place for the group of misfits to gather and find belonging.

The art in The Backstagers Act: 1 is perfectly whimsical. It’s bright and cheery, full of decidedly uplifting (and wonderfully ludicrous) colours and eye-twinkles (not a weird metaphor – there are literal stars ... Read More

Besieged: Stories that flesh out Atticus’ history and world

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Besieged by Kevin Hearne

In Besieged, Kevin Hearne has collected nine short stories that take place at different times in his popular IRON DRUID CHRONICLES saga. On his website, Hearne labels Besieged as book #8.5 in the series while GoodReads amusingly lists it as #4.1, #4.2, #4.6, #4.7, #8.1, and #8.6. I’d recommend reading Besieged after Staked (novel #8) or, better yet, use it as a companion collection as you read through the series. That way you could read each of the stories in Besieged in their proper timeline…

But it doesn’t matter that much. In fact, probably even a newcomer to... Read More

Æther & Empire Vol. 1: Eternal Glory

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Æther & Empire Vol. 1: Eternal Glory by Mike Horan, Bong Ty Dazo, & Tim Yates

If Victorian-era steampunk is your thing, you may want to check out Æther & Empire Vol. 1: Eternal Glory, which piles clockwork hearts, steam-driven automobiles, and an interplanetary voyage on top of a daring adventure tale. Written by Mike Horan, with pencils/inks by Bong Ty Horan and Tim Yates on colors, this trade paperback collects issues 1 – 6 of the Æther & Empire comic.

Issue #1 begins with a thrilling battle between Her Majesty’s Airship Nimbus — a craft that looks like a two-master with some horizontal sails and huge overhead balloons providing lift — and a privateer airship “[s]omewhere over the Libyan coast,” in 1879. The battle goes badly, but enough of the British crew survive and distinguish themselves, ga... Read More

Nemesis Games: Provides the backstory we’ve all been craving

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Reposted to include Marion's new review.

Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey

Naomi swirled the milky liquid in her glass, watching it slosh against the sides, a miniature sea, complete with little icebergs. “We need to talk,” she said.

Holden winced a bit inside, but forced his words to come out lighter than they felt in his head. “You mean man-woman talk, Captain-XO talk, or . . .”

“More of the ‘or’ type.”

“So, what’s on your mind?”  He leaned back against the bulkhead. Space-grade permasteel she thought, but between man and metal, she knew which she’d count on more.

“We need to review this book.”

“We’ve reviewed books before. And survived.”  He winced again, outwardly this time. “Mostly.”

“Yeah, but there are some killer revelations and plot twists i... Read More

The Stars, Like Dust: Asimov’s least favorite of all his novels still offers much

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The Stars, Like Dust by Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov’s very first novel, Pebble in the Sky (1950), was the opening salvo in what would later be known as his GALACTIC EMPIRE trilogy, and was set some 50,000 years in Earth’s future. It may surprise some potential readers to learn, then, that book 2 in the series, The Stars, Like Dust (the use of a comma after the word “Stars” is not present anywhere in my 1963 Lancer paperback, but Asimov’s later autobiography, I. Asimov, does present the book title with the comma, so don’t ask me!), takes place a mere 10,000 years in the future, or a good 40,000 years prior to the events in book 1!... Read More

The Refrigerator Monologues: Is your book group adventurous enough for this?

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The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente

In her Afterword, Catherynne M. Valente lays out the inspiration for 2017’s collection of linked short stories The Refrigerator Monologues. Valente was inspired partly by the work of comics writer Gail Simone, who created and popularized the term “Women in Refrigerators” as a way to describe women cape-and-mask heroes, and how they are treated in conventional comics. As for structure, Valente looked toward Eve Ensler’s groundbreaking theatrical work The Vagina Monologues. To no small extent, though, Valente was galvanized into writing this collection because of her anger at how Gwen Stacy is treated in one of the rece... Read More

The Farseekers: A solid continuation of a promising series

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The Farseekers by Isobelle Carmody

I enjoyed the first book in Isobelle Carmody's THE OBERNEWTYN CHRONICLES but its follow-up, The Farseekers (1990), was even better. After a nuclear holocaust has destroyed civilization as we know it, leaving only isolated communities and small cities ruled by a totalitarian Council, those born with psychic abilities are known as Misfits. Their fate is to be either burned at the stake or sent to remote Councilfarms, the most famous of which is called Obernewtyn.

Those there were subject to terrible experimentation, but since the close of the last book the compound has been taken over by ... Read More

Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche

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Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami is a celebrated novelist, but Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche is a work of non-fiction about the 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo’s subways carried out by the Aum Shinrikyo cult. In five separate locations, cultists simultaneously carried packets of sarin onto a subway. They each pierced their packet with the sharpened end of an umbrella and then left the subway. Twelve people died, and thousands more were harmed by the toxin.

Fans of Murakami’s novels may not be interested in this work, but they should hesitate before dismis... Read More

Saga (Vol. 7) by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

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Saga (Vol. 7) by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) and Fiona Staples (artist)

I had to wait nine months for Vol 7 of Brian Vaughan's Saga, and about a year for Vol 6, after reading the first 5 volumes back-to-back. Saga is my favorite current comic series (actually, the only one I am following at the moment), and if you haven’t read it then go out and read Vol 1 right now. If you like intelligent, snarky, sometimes profane space opera centered on a pair of star-crossed lovers who have a little girl named Hazel and an amazing supporting cast of bounty-hunters, humanoid robots, reporters, and various others all caught up in a galactic war between Wreat... Read More

Mad About Men: Miranda returns for another fish-out-of-water adventure

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Mad About Men directed by Ralph Thomas

When we last saw the mermaid Miranda, in the 1948 British fantasy film that bears her name, she was sitting on a rock in the middle of the ocean, bearing on her lap an infant merbaby, the sight of which was apparently meant to stun and amuse the viewer. Although the charming Miranda had almost caused the breakup of no fewer than three relationships in that film, she had not been intimate with any of the men involved (and really, how COULD she be?), and so ... just whose baby was this? In hindsight, the baby was apparently hers as the result of a previous underwater fling, casting a whole new light on just why the frisky mermaid wanted one above-water adventure before becoming a mermom herself. Or perhaps she was merely merbabysitting in that final scene?

I suppose that we will never know for sure, as the... Read More

An Augmented Fourth: Otherworldly, rock and roll horror

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An Augmented Fourth by Tony McMillen

Tony McMillen’s An Augmented Fourth (2017) is heavy metal rock and roll horror at its wailing-guitar best. Set in 1980, the point of transition from heavy metal to punk, An Augmented Fourth blends inter-dimensional eldritch horror, David-Cronenberg-movie grotesquerie, and psychedelia in a thrash-metal twenty-minute-guitar-solo of a story.

It’s December, 1980, and Codger Burton, bassist and lyricist of the UK’s once-premiere heavy metal band, Frivolous Black, wakes up in a Boston hotel to find the city snowed in. Codger slept through the evacuation call — at least, that’s what he thinks happened.

The power is off and the city center is eerily empty, but the Hotel Alucinari is not exactly deserted. Before too long, a hungover Codger meets John, a bellho... Read More

A World from Dust: How the Periodic Table Shaped Life

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A World from Dust: How the Periodic Table Shaped Life by Ben McFarland

A World from Dust: How the Periodic Table Shaped Life
(2016), by Ben McFarland, can at times be a difficult read, but despite that, and regardless of some writing/structural issues, it’s an often engaging and always confidently informative exploration of how life was driven down certain paths by the implacable requirements of chemistry.

McFarland’s perspective contrasts directly, as he describes on several occasions, with Stephen J. Gould’s pronouncement that if the “tape of life” were rerun from the beginning, the end result would be wildly different (meaning we humans most likely wouldn’t be around to notice that). McFarland argues that Gould may have a point in a very narrow sense, but is incorrec... Read More

Doomstar: Hamilton goes out like a pro

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Doomstar by Edmond Hamilton

As I have mentioned elsewhere, sci-fi pulpmaster Edmond Hamilton, during the early decades of his career, destroyed so many planets in his stories that he managed to acquire for himself the nickname “World Wrecker.” But in his final novel, Doomstar, the destruction of a mere planet seemed to be small potatoes for the Ohio-born author, and nothing less than the death — or, in this case, the poisoning — of a solar body would suffice! Doomstar was initially released as a 50-cent Belmont paperback in January 1966, almost 40 years after Hamilton’s first story had appeared in Weird Tales magazine. (I was fortunate enough to acquire the 1969 Belmont paperback, also with a cover price of 50 cents.) Hamilton was 62 when he... Read More

Archangel: A grand sweeping love story

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Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

Archangel by Sharon Shinn

Gabriel is about to become Archangel. He is required to lead the annual singing of the Gloria on the Plains of Sharon in just a few months with his wife, the angelica, at his side. There is just one problem: Gabriel isn’t married. Faced with this dilemma, he goes to the oracle to find out who he is supposed to marry, and is given the name of a woman, Rachel, but he has no idea where to find her. With the months slipping away before his voice raised in song is the only thing that can turn away the wrath of the god Jovah, he crisscrosses the land, and finally locates her — an Edori slave girl who has no intention of marrying an angel and spending her life in a different type of servitude. To make matters worse, the current Archangel, Raphael, seem... Read More

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: …and all for the want of a slide rule

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Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom by Bradley W. Schenck

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom (2017) is a sleek and shiny illustrated novel from Bradley W. Schenck, one that pays homage to the much-venerated Golden Age of science fiction while slipping a fair amount of modern social commentary beneath the chromed and bubble-helmeted exterior, and imparting the lesson that a well-equipped backpack will get you through most situations. Also, slide rules are important. Get yourself one if you don’t have one already, and if you do have one, maybe get a backup. Apparently, you never know when it’ll come in handy.

Imagine if, whenever you wanted to look at a website on your computer or hand-held device, an actual person had to move a cable from one switchboard-port to another, as had to be done for telephone calls in the first half of the twentieth cen... Read More

Our Dark Duet: Brings Schwab’s duology to a poignant and powerful close

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Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab

This Savage Song (2016), Schwab’s first book in her MONSTERS OF VERITY duology, introduced this world and its sharply drawn main characters Kate and August via a well and smoothly told story that ended with a great closing scene that whetted the reader’s desire for more of this story. In Our Dark Duet (2017), Schwab happily delivers with an equally-good sequel that resolves the narrative fully, though I for one wouldn’t mind if the author were to show us a few more nooks and crannies of this fascinating world. Fair warning — there will be unavoidable spoilers for book one.

I’ll let you turn to my review of book one for the detailed world description, but suffice to say that in this version of the geogr... Read More

This Savage Song: Great premise tied to strong characterization

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This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

This Savage Song (2016) is the first book in the MONSTERS OF VERITY duology by Victoria Schwab and it’s a strong entry point — fast moving, smoothly told, with a compellingly dark premise and engaging, interesting characters. Even better, there’s no drop off in book two (Our Dark Duet), so I can unabashedly recommend the entire story to readers.

The setting is an alternate world where the US broke up after the Vietnam War into nearly a dozen territories. The background isn’t all that important in that we spend all of our time in one capital city in book one and only part of book two in a second city. So it’s enough for our narrative purpose, but Schwab doesn’t bother with deep world-building and that’s fine; its absence isn’t felt at all. The more important context is... Read More

City At World’s End: Going Vegan

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City At World’s End by Edmond Hamilton

Written near the dawn of the Cold War era and soon after mankind first became aware of the fearful possibilities of the atom bomb, City at World’s End yet remains both highly readable and grippingly entertaining today, more than 65 years after its initial appearance. Edmond Hamilton’s book initially as a “complete novel” in the July 1950 issue of the pulp magazine Starling Stories, was released in hardcover the following year, and, in ’53, appeared again in the pages of Galaxy. (Personally, I just finished reading the 35-cent Crest Giant paperback from 1957.) Hamilton, who was already 46 when he wrote this tale, had been a published author since 1926, and already had countless hundreds of short stories, novellas and n... Read More

Wicked Wonders: The wonder and magic in our lives

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Reposting to include new reviews by Bill and Jana.

Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages

In Wicked Wonders (2017), Ellen Klages has assembled an impressive collection of her short stories. Although almost all of these stories have been previously published (the sole exception is “Woodsmoke”), most of them appeared in anthologies and are unlikely to be familiar to most readers. These fourteen stories run the gamut from non-fiction (“The Scary Ham”) to straight fiction (“Hey, Presto,” “Household Management” and “Woodsmoke”) to science fiction and fantasy. They’re often bittersweet or wistful and frequently surreal; tales of ordinary lives in which the fantastical or unexpected element sneaks up and taps you on the shoulder, and when you turn around the world has shifted.

Several tales in Wicked ... Read More

The Return of Doctor X: Citizen Quesne

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The Return of Doctor X directed by Vincent Sherman

As a result of his breakthrough role as Duke Mantee in the 1936 gem The Petrified Forest, Humphrey Bogart made no fewer than 25 films for Warner Brothers over the course of the next four years: five in 1936, seven (!) in 1937, six in 1938 and another whopping seven in 1939! Talk about paying your dues! For the most part, Bogart was second or even third billed — and even lower — in these films, typically playing gangsters but also some very unlikely roles, and these from the man who, just a few years later still, would be the highest paid actor in Hollywood. But of all the unusual roles that the great Bogart ever essayed, it is the part of Marshall Quesne (pronounced "Kane") in The Return of Doctor X that just might be his strangest. Bogart would go on to claim that this film, along with 1938's Swing Your Lady, was his absolute wor... Read More

Journey Across the Hidden Islands: The lion swoops tonight

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Journey Across the Hidden Islands by Sarah Beth Durst

Seika and Ji-Lin are the twelve year old princesses of the Hidden Islands, a group of a hundred islands cut off from the rest of the world by a magical barrier created by an ancient volcano dragon. Seika is the heir to the throne, while Ji-Lin is being trained as an imperial guard, dedicated to protecting her sister from any danger. For the past year they’ve been separated while Ji-Lin is in training at a mountain temple, with the winged, talking lion Alejan as her partner and closest friend.

Ji-Lin’s training is unexpectedly cut short when she is called to return to the imperial city. The emperor, their father, tells Seika and Ji-Lin that the next day they will begin the ritual five-day-long Emperor’s Journey to visit the Dragon’s Shrine. There they will renew ... Read More

A Gathering of Shadows: Rich characterization makes for a strong sequel

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

While I didn’t fall in in love with V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, I quite enjoyed it, giving it four stars in my review. Schwab is back in this universe now with a sequel, A Gathering of Shadows (2016), which carries forward the strengths of the first book, making for yet another strong story.

Set four months after the events of book one (and yes, you’ll definitely want to read book one if you haven’t and possibly wish to skim it or find an online synopsis if you have... Read More

Beren and Lúthien: For the diehard Tolkien fan

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Beren and Lúthien ed. by Christopher Tolkien

In the very early pages of Christopher Tolkien’s Beren and Lúthien, his exploration of how his father’s grand love story of the two star-crossed lovers developed, he notes that, “This book does not offer a single page of original and unpublished work. What then is the need, now, for such a book?”

It’s a fair question, and one that I’m not sure all readers will find a ready answer for. The last half-dozen or so posthumous Tolkien books (from now on I will refer to J.R.R. Tolkien as simply “Tolkien” and his son/editor as “Christopher”) run a spectrum from those, such as The Story of Kullervo, probably only enjoyed by the most diehard of Tolkien fans/completists and those such... Read More