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Poe Dameron Vol. 2: The Gathering Storm: Inching closer to open war

Star Wars: Poe Dameron Vol. 2: The Gathering Storm by Charles Soule & Phil Noto

This is the second in Charles Soule’s ongoing comic book series focused on Poe Dameron, though I didn't know that when I read it, and thankfully didn't feel like I needed anything catching up on anything. Set in the period leading up to The Force Awakens, this explores the growing conflict between the Resistance and the First Order, as well as the search for Lor San Tekka (as you'll recall, he was played by Max von Sydow in the movie).

As General Leia's best and most trusted pilot, Poe is tasked with the mission of finding Lor San Tekka, though he's deeply troubled by the possibility that a member of his Black Squadron is a traitor, feeding information to the First Order. But who is it?

Having received intelligence that one of C-3P... Read More

The Lesson: A thoughtful look at race relations, power, and violence

The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull

The Lesson (2019), by Cadwell Turnbull, is a solid first-contact sort of novel that feels fresh due to its unique setting in the Virgin Islands and has some serious depth to it in the way it uses the encounter between aliens and the islanders as a vehicle for exploring colonialism/race relations, though it left me wanting a little bit more in terms of character and craft.

The novel opens pre-landing with an introduction to the various major characters, including:

Derrick: a young sci-fi/fantasy fan who will eventually become assistant to the alien ambassador
Patrice: his neighbor and best friend
Jackson: Patrice’s father, a teacher and someone going through a mid-life crisis
Aubrey: Patrice’s mother, also learning more about herself
Grams/Harriet: Derrick’s stern grandmother
Lee: Derrick’s younger sister
M... Read More

Poe Dameron Vol. 1: Black Squadron: A better look at a STAR WARS favourite

Star Wars: Poe Dameron Vol. 1: Black Squadron by Charles Soule & Phil Noto

There’s so much STAR WARS-related content out there at the moment that it’s difficult to know what’s worthy of your time and energy and what isn’t. For those that are specifically interested in the latest STAR WARS sequel trilogy and the character of Poe Dameron (played by Oscar Isaac), then Charles Soule’s STAR WARS: POE DAMERON series of comics serves as a direct lead-up to The Force Awakens, gathering up characters and plot-strands that drive the 2015 film.

It’s been thirty years since the defeat of the Empire in The Return of the Jedi, but the First Order has slowly but surely risen to take its place. So far though, the threat it poses has not been recognized by the rest of the... Read More

The Poppy War: Grimdark military fantasy in an Asian world

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Fang Runin (Rin) is a war orphan living with opium-dealing foster parents who physically abuse her and treat her like a slave, which is miserable enough. But when they arrange a match for her at age fourteen with a twice-divorced merchant three times her age, Rin has finally had enough. She comes up with an escape plan, managing to hold off her foster parents’ marriage plans for her for the time being through a combination of threats and promises. Rin spends every spare waking moment during the next two years studying for the Keju, a national test to find the brightest students in the empire to admit to the Academies, even burning herself with hot candle wax to keep herself awake and focused as she crams for the test. And it works: Rin does so well on the Keju that she’s admitted to Sinegard, the military school for the most elite students in the Nikara Empire.

It seems like a dream come true, but R... Read More

Over the Wall: A top-notch book for young readers

Over the Wall by Peter Wartman

Warned off by a demon not to enter the empty city, the girl from the country village persists in her desire to pass through the invisible barrier around the city that keeps the demons in. This young girl is the main character of Peter Wartman’s Over the Wall, a charming coming-of-age fantasy graphic novel for young readers. It is a quick read and is light on text to make room for the wonderful art that uses only purple in addition to the black and white drawings, a good choice in that it makes Over the Wall a visually unique graphic novel. Though it’s short, it’s a great read and one I recommend highly for young readers, though I certainly enjoyed reading it as an adult.

The story starts off with our young protagonist gathering together a few items in a backpack: It is nighttime, and we can see her parents asleep in bed in this one-room home... Read More

The Cabin at the End of the World: Disorientating and brutal

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

Eight-year-old Wen and her dads, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing in a remote cabin in the woods in New Hampshire. Eric and Andrew are lounging on the back deck, overlooking a lake, trying hard to give Wen some space to play on her own. That almost immediately appears to be the wrong decision, as a large man named Leonard unexpectedly arrives while Wen is catching grasshoppers in the front yard. Wen knows she’s not supposed to talk to strangers, but Leonard is disarmingly nice, and he’s very helpful with the grasshoppers.

The tension posed by this scenario is already ratcheted up to 11 on a 10 point scale, but it’s only the beginning; three more people show up with strange and menacing weapons. Wen runs inside and she and her dads attempt to keep the strangers out. They fail. The strangers, however, do not immediately slaughter the family. Instead, after immobilizing the men... Read More

The Mortal Word: Fans of the series shouldn’t miss this one

The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman

The Mortal Word (2018) is the fifth book in Genevieve’s Cogman’s INVISIBLE LIBRARY series. Irene Winters is a librarian who works for the Invisible Library, which helps maintain the balance of the worlds between order and chaos. Irene’s former protégée, dragon prince Kai Strongrock, is no longer assigned to the library, but the two of them meet now and then at the home of Vale, a consulting detective in the Victorian-era world where Irene is currently assigned. During her visit, rival librarian Bradamant comes to hire Vale to investigate the murder of a prominent Dragon lord on another neutral world. The murder is particularly important because it happened on the eve of a vital peace conference between the champions of order, the Dragons, and the Fae, who r... Read More

The Agony House: A fun and instructive haunted house mystery

The Agony House by Cherie Priest

When she was too young to remember, Denise Farber’s father and grandmother died in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. She and her mother fled to Houston. Now, with Denise about to enter her senior year in high school, her mother has just remarried and their new little family is returning to New Orleans. They have very little money, so they’ve purchased an old dilapidated Victorian style home that they hope to fix up and turn into a Bed & Breakfast.

After moving into the house, which has been nicknamed “The Nail House” by the neighbors, conditions are far worse than they imagined. Almost nothing works, new electrical wiring and plumbing is required, all of the walls and flooring need remodeling, and the place is filthy. As they start working on the house, strange things start happening — Denise sees, hears, smells, and feels things that don’t seem to exist and then there are multi... Read More

We Sold Our Souls: Heavy metal horror

We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

Here at FanLit we’re working together to get all the Locus Award finalists reviewed. I’m not a fan of horror, but when I learned that Grady Hendrix’s horror novel We Sold Our Souls (2018) was about a woman who used to be the lead guitarist for a metal band, I knew this novel was for me. Hard rock and metal are my favorite music genres, I love to attend live shows, and I have often fantasized that being a guitarist for a metal band could have been an alternative career path if my mom had allowed me to take guitar instead of piano lessons. So, I was ready to love We Sold Our Souls.

The story starts by introducing a teenage Kris Pulaski in the late 1980s as she discovers metal and hard rock music and begins learning to play electric guitar in her bedroom. I could totally relate to Kris and her friend Terry (a singer) as they ... Read More

The Wonder Engine: Trying to beat the clocktaurs

The Wonder Engine by T. Kingfisher

The Wonder Engine (2018) is the second half of a fantasy duology by T. Kingfisher that began with Clockwork Boys, and it's absolutely necessary to read that book first (a few minor spoilers for that book are in this review). Clockwork Boys relates how a company of condemned criminals ― Slate the forger, Brenner the assassin, and Caliban the paladin ― plus one straitlaced, misogynistic scholar named Learned Edmund, are assembled and sent on a mission to the distant Anuket City. This is the place where the so-called Clockwork Boys or, more properly, clocktaurs, originate: immense magical mechanical creatures that smash everything and kill everyone in their paths, and are n... Read More

In the Night Wood: Immersively atmospheric despite overly-familiar plot

In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey

I can’t honestly say there was much new or surprising about Dale Bailey’s In the Night Wood (2018), making the plot easily the weakest element of this Locus-nominated novel. Its strength, meanwhile, lies in its vivid, evocative prose and its portrayal of the inner turmoil of its main character.

When Charles Hayden was just a child, he came across an old book entitled In the Night Wood by the 19th Century author Caedmon Hollow and was mysteriously drawn to it, so much so he stole it from his grandfather’s library where he’d found it (the old man wouldn’t notice, since it was during his grandfather’s funeral that Charles took it). Years later, looking for another copy of it at the college library, he fortuitously runs into Erin, a young woman who was “not beautiful exactly, but striking ... Out of his league anyway,” who tur... Read More

Gather, Darkness!: Hard times in Megatheopolis

Gather, Darkness! by Fritz Leiber

By April 1943, Chicago-born author Fritz Leiber had seen around 20 of his short stories released in the various pulp magazines of the day and was ready to embark as a full-fledged novelist. Thus, his first longer work, Conjure Wife, did indeed make its debut in the 4/43 issue of Unknown, the fantasy-oriented sister magazine of John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science-Fiction. In it, a college professor, Norman Saylor, discovers that his wife, Tansy, is nothing less than a practicing witch, leading to increasingly dire and supernatural consequences. Leiber’s second novel, released just a month later, was Gather, Darkness!, and it, too, featured the subject of witchcraft … but in a f... Read More

Severance: These aren’t the zombies you’re looking for

Severance by Ling Ma

Candace Chen, daughter of Chinese immigrants, lives in New York City and works for a book publisher (Bibles are her specialty). Photography is her hobby so, in her spare time, she takes photos of people and places in the city and posts them to her blog.

Candace is one of the last people in Manhattan after a viral epidemic rages across the globe, turning most of the world’s population into mindless automatons who get stuck doing some little rote routine until they starve. She joins up with a small group of survivors who are being led by an authoritarian guy named Bob to some place he calls “The Facility” where they can start a new civilization. As the group travels to The Facility, Candace tells us her story, weaving in a series of near-past and far-past flashbacks.

In Ling Ma’s Severance (2018), which is up for a Locus Award for Best First Novel... Read More

The Red-Stained Wings: Bear wields a keen eye

The Red-Stained Wings by Elizabeth Bear

Second books of a trilogy all too often suffer from BBS (Bridge Book Syndrome), and truth be told, Elizabeth Bear’s The Red-Stained Wings did at times evince several of the symptoms, including a sense of wheel-spinning and the occasional lagging of pace. Luckily, Bear was mostly able to keep the condition in check thanks to the host of remedies she has readily available in her writerly pharmacopeia, including rich characterization, fervent imagination, and vivid, lovely prose. Inevitable spoilers for the first book to follow.

In book one, The Stone in the Skull, the Lotus Kingdom lands that splintered off when the Lotus Empire fell enter a chaotic period of up... Read More

Aurora Rising: A snarky space thriller

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

A lot of YA fantasy and science fiction works follow teenager characters as they attend magic or spaceflight school (I would take either!), but not nearly as many follow the characters’ lives after graduation. Aurora Rising (2019), a new YA space adventure from Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, the authors of the well-regarded ILLUMINAE FILES trilogy, take the latter approach, following a diverse cast of older teens as they graduate from Aurora Academy in the year 2380, are divided into crews of six according to their specialties, and assigned their initial mission for the Aurora Legion.

Tyler Jones, age 18, is at the top of the senior class. A natural leader and stellar studen... Read More

Memento Mori: The Fathomless Shadows: It draws you in

Memento Mori: The Fathomless Shadows by Brian Hauser

Memento Mori: The Fathomless Shadows (2019) is horror writer Brian Hauser’s debut novel. The story follows three women: Tina Mori and A.C. Waite, avant-garde filmmakers in the 1970s, and Billie Jacobs, a teenage zine-publisher, in what is probably the late nineties or early oughts. The book plays with the macabre, the mysterious, The King in Yellow and the blasted shores of the city of lost Carcosa.

Memento Mori’s structure is a series of nested stories presented in the form of various manuscripts. Hauser chooses to use what I’m going to call The Colbert Maneuver, after Stephen Colbert (even though many writers have done it); introducing a character named “Brian R. Hauser” into the first page of the book. The character Hauser i... Read More

The Mere Wife: Uncomfortable but impressive

The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley

“… all my selves together at once, soldier, daughter, wife, victim, mother, monster.”

The Mere Wife (2018), which is up for a Locus Award this year, is billed as a “modern retelling of Beowulf.” Set in an upscale suburban housing development called Herot Hall, it follows two mothers and their sons. One of these is Willa, the wife of a wealthy plastic surgeon whose family built Herot Hall. Willa spends her days vapidly shopping, thinking about how she looks, planning parties, competing with the neighboring housewives, being coached by her own mother, and trying to defend her house and her son Dylan from any malign outside influences.

The other mother is Dana Mills, a soldier with severe PTSD who comes back to the United States pregnant with no memory of how she got that way. When she arrives home, she discovers that Herot Hal... Read More

Lands of the Earthquake and Under a Dim Blue Sun: Another winner from DMR

Lands of the Earthquake by Henry Kuttner  &  Under a Dim Blue Sun by Howie K. Bentley

The publishing company known as DMR Books had previously been a very solid 2 for 2 with this reader.

Earlier this year, I had hugely enjoyed DMR’s recent releases The Sapphire Goddess and The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories, showcasing as they did two undersung authors who had been popular with the Weird Tales audience of the 1920s and ‘30s; respectively, Nictzin Dyalhis and Clifford Ball.

So when I heard that DMR’s m... Read More

Other Words for Smoke: A dark and twisting almost-fairytale

Other Words for Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin

Other Words for Smoke (2019) is not a traditional coming-of-age story. Its composite parts include a magical house, a witch, her apprentice, their talking cat and an evil owl fed on bones that materialises through the walls. And yet, at its heart, the tale is universal: it explores the pain of adolescence, unrequited love and the turmoil of a family falling apart.

The story opens with twins Mae and Rossa huddled outside the wreckage of a burnt house. Found by the police, they are unable to speak of what had happened. Their aunt Rita and her teenage ward Bevan both perished in the blaze, yet townsfolk and journalists alike will never find out exactly what happened.

Rewind to three years previously, and Mae and Rossa find themselves on Rita's doorstep for the first time. They have been sent to spend the summer with their aunt in the countryside. Th... Read More

Dread Nation: Not just another zombie story

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

In Dread Nation (2018), the American civil war was interrupted when the fallen soldiers on both sides rose again to eat their friends and foes alike. In short: things were a bit of a mess. Our protagonist, Jane, was born two days after the first shambler (the term for zombies in this story) rose on the battlefields. Dread Nation is about her life in this new world.

When I picked up Dread Nation it did cross my mind that zombie stories were a bit of a trend a couple of years ago. I picked this one up because it is in the running for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy (awarded with the Nebula Awards) — so if any zombie story is going to be good, it ought to be this one. I was not disappointed.

With few reservations, I thoroughly enjoyed Dread Nation. ... Read More

7 Against Chaos: Science Fiction art not to be missed

7 Against Chaos by Harlan Ellison

7 Against Chaos by Harlan Ellison tells the tale of the robed man who gathers six others to join him in his attempt to save the Earth. The robed man, Roark, has been guided by near-sentient computers created by other near-sentient computers: They tell him that in order to save the earth in the twenty-second century, he will need the complete team of seven gathered together. Once the team is complete, they go back in time in order to confront their nemesis, Erissa, a lizard-man who wants to change the earth so that it is dominated by reptiles rather than mammals.

The first half of the book is a series of last-minute life-saving maneuvers by Roark. Each character is saved from near doom, for a variety of reasons. For example, Tantalus, the insect-man, was about to be killed by an angry crowd upset that they lost money betting that Tantalus would lose his battle in a large a... Read More

Empire of Grass: A bit long, sure, but well worth the journey

Empire of Grass by Tad Williams

OK, first of all, I’ve got to give Empire of Grass (2019) an automatic four stars just because it actually has a “previously in Osten Ard” prologue. I mean, seriously people. TV shows give us a recap of what happened six days of real time and an hour of episode-time ago, and you can’t offer up a damned reminder of what happened a year or two (or five!) and six hundred pages ago? Really? So props to Tad Williams for taking pity on us hapless readers. A four is the floor for you. May others go to school on your noblesse oblige.

I’m also going to offer a slow clap to Williams for going all in with on the epic in epic fantasy with this nearly 700-page tome. Did he need all those pages? No. No, he did not. But you have to be impressed by the ut... Read More

Golden State: Another frightening alternate history by Winters

Golden State by Ben H. Winters

Here’s another frightening alternate history thriller by Ben H. Winters. If you loved his 2016 Underground Airlines, like I did, you’ll want to give Golden State (2019) a try. It’s set in a near-future California (or some part of California) where lying has been criminalized due to the fall-out from the disastrous events that occurred when certain leaders of the United States kept deceiving the citizens. (I will say that one good thing about the current US administration is that it’s providing a wealth of fodder to speculative fiction authors!)

To uphold the truth, there is surveillance everywhere. Everything is on the record. Even logs of personal daily activities and all re... Read More

Luna: Moon Rising: Everything is negotiable — everything

Luna: Moon Rising by Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald concludes the LUNA trilogy with Luna: Moon Rising (2019), finishing many of the stories begun in Luna: New Moon and continued in Luna: Wolf Moon while leaving the futures of his characters and the Moon itself open for rampant speculation. This review will contain some inevitable spoilers for the ending of Luna: Wolf Moon, in particular, but I’ll try to make them as brief as possible, sticking primarily to the details provided in McDonald’s sum-up at Moon Rising’s beginning.
The moon wants to kill you. ~(Luna: N... Read More

The Rosewater Insurrection: A wonderfully imaginative sequel

The Rosewater Insurrection by Tade Thompson

Tade Thompson’s The Rosewater Insurrection (2019) is the sequel to Rosewater (2016), a stunningly imaginative, structurally complex, and beautifully written novel that Kate and I loved. It’s about an alien presence called Wormwood that tunnels under the surface of our planet and has sprouted a dome in Nigeria. Because the dome has healing properties, a ramshackle city called Rosewater has grown up around it where people with various ailments live, hoping to benefit from the healing. Sometimes this goes badly awry, though, such as when dead bodies are reanimated but no longer carry the souls they once did.

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