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Reaper Man: The demise of Death

Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

Reading Reaper Man in light of Terry Pratchett’s recent passing was particularly poignant. It is a book all about death, both figuratively and literally speaking. DISCWORLD fans will be familiar with the character of Death, who this book is largely about. Then, of course, there are the blustering wizards of the Unseen University in Ankh-Morpork, but that is not to say that readers new to the Discworld can’t pick this up as a stand-alone novel. So, what happens when Death is sacked? Utter chaos, apparently…

The mystical forces of the universe (who very specifically have no personalities or individual qualities to them) are not happy. Death has become too much of a character (a he, not an it) and it is simply not proper for the impersonal force... Read More

Horrible Monday: Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco

Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco

For all those folks who have at times felt that their home and possessions owned them, rather than the other way around; for those folks who love a good haunted house/possession tale; and even for those readers who simply enjoy a well-told thriller of a page-turner, Robert Marasco's 1973 novel Burnt Offerings will be a real find. This was Marasco's first novel in a sadly unprolific career; he came out with only two more titles – Child’s Play, a drama, in 1970, and Parlor Games, a Gothic-style mystery, in 1979 – before succumbing to lung cancer in 1998, at the age of 62. A real loss, if Burnt Offerings is any indication of the man's skills.

In this work, we meet Ben and Marian Rolfe, a nice, ordinary couple from Queens, who, with 8-year-old son Dav... Read More

James and the Giant Peach: Not for kiddies only

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

Perhaps I should confess right up front that this review of what is popularly regarded solely as a children's book is being written by a 50+-year-old male "adult" who hadn't read a kids' book in many years. For me, Welsh author Roald Dahl had long been the guy who scripted one of my favorite James Bond movies, 1967's You Only Live Twice, and who was married for 30 years to the great actress Patricia Neal. Recently, though, in need of some "mental palate cleansing" after a bunch of serious adult lit, I picked up Dahl's first kiddy novel, James and the Giant Peach, and now know what several generations have been aware of since the book's release in 1961: that this is an absolutely charming story for young and old alike, with marvelous characters, a remarkably imaginative story line and some quirky humor scattered throughout.

As most baby boom... Read More

Swords Against Wizardry: Two lovable rogues and their adventures

Swords Against Wizardry by Fritz Leiber

This is the fourth collection of stories in Fritz Leiber’s FAFHRD AND THE GRAY MOUSER series, and is better than the previous volume, Swords in the Mist. It features four stories: "In the Witch's Tent" (1968), "Stardock" (1965), "The Two Best Thieves in Lankhmar" (1968), and "The Lords of Quarmall" (1964). My personal favorites are “Stardock” and "The Two Best Thieves in Lankhmar." The first story is just a short framing piece, so I’ll focus on the main three stories.

“Stardock” is a fast-paced and amazingly-written adventure in which Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser climb Stardock, an imposing ice-covered mountain that is the Newhon equivalent of Everest, in a quest to retrieve a pouch of gems that legend holds were made by the gods as test-models for ... Read More

The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones: Wise kings will read it

The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, Elio M. García, and Linda Antonsson

George R.R. Martin’s The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and The Game of Thrones is a companion to his A SONG OF ICE & FIRE novels. It provides modest spoilers for the series and is probably best if not read until readers have finished the third novel, A Storm of Swords, or finished watching the third season in the television series. (And the same is true of this review.)

Given that the title of this book — The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones — references both Martin’s ... Read More

After Dark: Staying up late

After Dark by Haruki Murakami

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.

The bars are closing and the night’s last trains are shuttling people out of the city to their suburban beds. The city would be empty if it weren’t for the few remaining people who have decided to stay up After Dark.

Mari Asai, who studies Mandarin, sits in a Denny’s, reading a novel, when a stranger, Takahashi Tetsuya, joins her. Technically, Takahashi is not a stranger. He went to school with Mari’s sister, Eri, and he and Mari actually met once at a party the year before. Takahashi is staying up all night be... Read More

Swords Against Death: Sword and sorcery’s most famous duo are in top form

Swords Against Death by Fritz Leiber

This is the second collection of stories in the FAFHRD AND THE GRAY MOUSER series, but the majority of the stories were written well before the stories of the first book, Swords and Deviltry. Again Fritz Leiber took a group of independent stories written in the early 1940s and added connective and framing material to make the book more cohesive. As a result, I think some the best stories are the earliest ones, written for the pulp magazines like Unknown, though the final story is also excellent.

There are ten stories altogether in Swords and Deviltry, though seven of them first appeared in a collection called Two Sought Adventure published in 1957. All of the stories are filled with the rough-and-tumble adventures of F... Read More

Starlady and Fast-Friend: Two novelettes by George R.R. Martin

Starlady and Fast-Friend by George R.R. Martin

In July 2008 Subterranean published this book containing two novelettes by George R.R. Martin, both of which were originally published in 1976. They are presented in a similar fashion to the Ace Double novels of the 1950s and 1960s. Thus, Starlady and Fast-Friend has two covers and is printed back to back and upside down. I was born too late and on the wrong continent to have been exposed to any of these double novels myself, but I thought it an interesting idea anyway. In his collection Dreamsongs: A RRetrospective, a publication that is central to Martin’s work, he mentions Starlady and Fast-Friend as some of his earliest exposures to (written) science fiction — stories that took him to “walk beneath the light of distant stars.” But they weren’t included in Dreamsongs: A RR... Read More

Maskerade: Pratchett does The Phantom of the Opera

Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

Marion and I both read Maskerade around the same time. I listened to Nigel Planer narrate the audio version (he's so good) while Marion read the book in print format. She joins me here as we discuss this DISCWORLD story featuring the witches of Lancre.

Kat: After Magrat Garlick married the king in Lord and Ladies, there were only two real witches in Lancre: Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. This isn’t right; everyone knows you need three witches. Granny realizes that their best prospect for a replacement for Magrat is Agnes, a girl who is known for having a nice personality (which means she’s unattractive). Agnes is full-bodied (to put it nicely), but she knows there’s a skinny girl inside. Unfortunately, that skinny girl has a name... Read More

A Crown for Cold Silver: Superb characters in an intriguing world

A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall

A Crown for Cold Silver is a big, brassy, gut-buster of a fantasy debut, weighing in at over 650 pages. Alex Marshall has crafted a multi-layered tale (or song, if you prefer the parlance of The Star) of bloody vengeance, personal glory, and the unimaginable consequences of a single careless wish. Clear your calendar, stock up on snacks, and silence the phone — this is a serious investment of time, but one which is well worth your attention.

A Crown for Cold Silver opens with the massacre of an entire village. Kypck is a little town at the foot of the Kumbutan mountain range, and for murky reasons that only grow more complicated as the book unfolds, the Fifteenth Cavalry of the Crimson Empire has arrived to murder every last man, woman, and child. The Mayoress, a fifty-odd-year-old woman who introduces herself a... Read More

The Kraken Wakes: Baked Alaska

The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham

At this point, only the most obstinate of naysayers would ever deny the alarming evidence regarding global warming, the shrinking of the ozone layer, the melting of the polar ice caps, and the rising of the Earth’s ocean levels. Indeed, just recently, the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite revealed that Greenland and Antarctica are, together, losing their millennia-old ice caps at the rate of some 500 cubic kilometers per year! But over 60 years ago, British sci-fi author John Wyndham presented to his readers an even scarier proposition than Man’s unwitting destruction of his environment, in his 1953 offering The Kraken Wakes (released in the U.S. under the title Out of the Deeps); namely, the deliberate destruction of the polar ice caps, with its concomitan... Read More

Blood of Tyrants: A world tour with plenty of dragons

Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik

I was concerned when Blood of Tyrants, the eighth volume of Naomi Novik’s TEMERAIRE series, began with three unlikely events, but I needn't have worried. It soon improved.

The three unlikely things were:

1. A man wearing a heavy wool coat is swept into the sea and not drowned, but washed up on shore alive. This despite the fact that the reef where he started was far enough out to sea that it apparently couldn't be seen from shore, and despite the fact that:

2. He suffered a head injury, was knocked out, and lost eight years' worth of memory, exactly corresponding to the length of the book series.

3. He was then found by probably the one person in Japan who wouldn't immediately hand him over to the authorities: a man who'd... Read More

Book Chat: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

This Book Chat we’re continuing with another classic Ray Bradbury title: Something Wicked This Way Comes, his 1962 novel that mixes fantasy, horror, and coming-of-age to tell the story of a sinister carnival that arrives in the town of two 13-year-old boys, Jim Nightshade and William Halloway.

Bill Capossere: I’ll start off by saying I loved this book when I read it the first time as a young teen, somewhere when I was probably just a year or two older than the two protagonists; I choked up and I think actually cried a bit when I read it to my own son about four or five years ago, and I loved it again on this re-read. Some of the reasons were the same, some of the reasons are different... Read More

The Maracot Deep: What’s doing in Atlantis NOW?

The Maracot Deep by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Readers who know of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle through his Sherlock Holmes stories, his tales of Sir Nigel in the 14th century, the Napoleonic adventures of Brigadier Gerard or the sci-fi escapades of Professor Challenger might still be unfamiliar with The Maracot Deep. Published in 1929, only a year before the author's death, this short novel amply demonstrates that Doyle still retained all his great abilities as a spinner of riveting yarns, even in his twilight years. At a mere 140 pages, the novel(la) is a compact but densely written fantasy of the discovery of the remnants of Atlantis.

It seems that Professor Maracot (a kind of early 20th century cross between Jacques Cousteau and Robert Ballard), along with an American naturalist and an American engineer, had suffered a terrible accident while in his bathysphere off the... Read More

Davy: My favorite coming-of-age SF novel of all time

Davy by Edgar Pangborn

Davy (1964) is a wonderfully-written coming-of-age story set in a post-apocalyptic Northeastern United States 400 years after a brief nuclear exchange destroyed high-tech civilization, where life has become far more like the frontier days of the early US, with a scattered group of city-states dominated by the Holy Murcan Church. Far from what you might expect, it is a tale filled with humor, pathos, and charm. It is the narrative voice of Davy as he grows up from a simple boy to a randy young man that captures the reader from the start. His early days are dominated by wanting to escape from his bondsman life (in between freeman and slave), his desire for the tavern owner's daughter, and his discovery of a golden horn in the possession of an innocent and ignorant mutant.

Taking this horn propels him on a series of adventures with deserters from a battle and he eventually joins an iti... Read More

The Chrysalids: Forbidden post-apocalyptic telepaths

The Chrysalids by John Wynhdam

It’s no wonder that David dreams of a distant and wondrous city at night: life in the post-apocalyptic settlement, Waknuk, is difficult. Waknuk’s people are descended from the survivors of the Tribulation, which everyone knows was sent by God to punish the Old People. Though David and his community are lucky to have any land to live on, they must always guard against Deviations — in their crops, in their livestock, and in their children.

Deviations are not made in God’s True Image. Children that, say, have six toes, have the Devil in them, so they are either destroyed or else sent to the Fringes after they are sterilized. Though these exiles may later return as raiders, life in Waknuk is — if not always peaceful — still much better than life in the Badlands.

David Strorm may not care that deeply about Purity and maintaining God’s True Image, but his father, Joseph, cares ... Read More

The Next Species: Examining humanity’s past and potential future

The Next Species by Michael Tennesen

The Next Species: The Future of Evolution in the Aftermath of Man, by Michael Tennesen, is an engaging, informative overview of the history of life on this planet and humanity’s impact on that life (mostly for ill), followed by a look into the future and what might happen were humanity to go extinct or diverge into a different species.

He begins with a trip to the rain forest in the Andes, cataloging the rich diversity of life in the relatively small area (“The tropical Andes contain about a sixth of the world’s plant life in less than 1 percent of its land area... more than 1,724 species of birds in an area the size of New Hampshire”) and segues from this richness to a discussion of the consensus belief that we are in the midst of a sixth great extinction.

Over the course of The Next Species, he details those other extinctions, ... Read More

Tarzan of the Apes: A very fine introduction to the original swinger

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Three years ago, the character of Tarzan celebrated his 100th birthday. Making his initial appearance in the October 1912 issue of All-Story Magazine, in the original Tarzan novel Tarzan of the Apes, Edgar Rice Burroughs' creation proved to be so popular that the author went on to create 25 more novels featuring the jungle swinger. Released in book form two years later, the novel is a perfect introduction to the character who has been called the best-known fictional creation of the 20th century. Like many others, my only previous familiarity with Tarzan was via the Johnny Weissmuller films of the '30s and '40s — all dozen of them — and, to a lesser degree, those featuring Bruce Bennett, Buster Crabbe, Lex Barker and Gordon Scott (I have never gotten a chance to see the... Read More

Tales of The Dying Earth: A perfect introduction to Jack Vance’s work

Tales of The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

Note: This is a review of the omnibus edition of Vance's DYING EARTH series. The individual novels are The Dying Earth (1950), The Eyes of the Overworld (1966), Cugel’s Saga (1983) and Rhialto the Marvellous (1984).

There aren’t any other books in SF/Fantasy quite like Jack Vance’s Tales of The Dying Earth. They have had an enormous influence on writers ranging from Gene Wolfe and George R.R. Martin to Gary Gygax, the creator of Read More

Wyrd Sisters: Fun and Endearing

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

Wyrd Sisters is a fun, lively book. It’s definitely a bit on the light side compared to some of Pratchett’s later works – more parody and less satire, if you like – but there’s nothing wrong with a jocular, easy-going read. Indeed, while it perhaps lacks something of the punch one might find in Mort or Small Gods, this installment is probably one of the better entry points for DISCWORLD, readable and endearing.

This is of course especially true if you’re a Shakespeare fan, in which case Wyrd Sisters easily eclipses Guards! Guards! as the definitive Square One for the series. As hinted by the title, Wyrd Sisters is basically Pratchett’s parody of Shakespearean theater (specifically MacBeth, ... Read More

Acceptance: Easy to admire, hard to love

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

(Warning, this review may contain spoilers for the two previous SOUTHERN REACH books, Annihilation and Authority.)

If the reader believes the best theory put forth by the characters in Acceptance, the final book in Jeff VanderMeer’s SOUTHERN REACH trilogy, then it is the most original use of a certain standard SF trope that I’ve ever read. I do choose to believe the theory because it fits most of the... well, information — I can’t really use the word “facts” — we are given and because the author appears to confirm the theory later in the book.

That said, while Acceptance has rich, layered prose, strange, startling imagery and a... Read More

The Sirens of Titan: An early Vonnegut classic about the randomness of life

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

The Sirens of Titan is a tough book to review. And it’s not really SF at all though it adopts the trappings of the genre. The thing about Kurt Vonnegut’s books is that they are so deceptively simple. The prose is spare, humorous, ironic, and to the point. And yet the story is very ambitious, as it seeks to provide answers to some very basic questions. Why do we exist? What is the universe for? Do we have any free will to determine our lives? Should we have chicken or fish for dinner?

The story focuses on Malachi Constant, the richest man in America; Winston Niles Rumfoord, an older wealthy man who travels throughout the solar system with his dog Kazak, manifesting in various locations in space and time; Unk and Boaz, two buddies in the Martian Army preparing to invade the ... Read More

The Lost Continent: Possibly the finest novel of Atlantis ever written

The Lost Continent by C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne

The Lost Continent first appeared serially in the English publication Pearson's Magazine in 1899, and in book form the following year. The author, C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne, is not exactly a household name today, but, way back when, was an extremely popular and prolific writer. His serialized tales of Captain Kettle, also in Pearson's, were supposedly only second in popularity to the Strand Magazine's Sherlock Holmes stories, as submitted by Arthur Conan Doyle. But today, Hyne's reputation seems to rest solely on this wonderful novel of the last years of the continent of Atlantis.

The history of these final years is told by the soldier-priest Deucalion, who, at the book's opening, has just been recalled from his 20-year viceroyalty of the Atlantean province of Yucatan. On his return to his homeland, after that two-dec... Read More

SAGA Volume Two, Issues 7-12

SAGA Volume Two, Issues 7-12 by Brian K. Vaughan (author) & Fiona Staples (illustrator)

Well, this series is still going strong… lots of fun and highly recommended!

This time around we get a glimpse into what filled young Marko with such hatred for the Landfallians (hint: mom and dad might have had something to do with it), Alana gets to meet the in-laws (umm, gulp), and we get to see the first meeting between our two love-birds (hey, Marko only lost one tooth by the looks of it!)… oh yeah and Marko’s former fiancée arrives on the scene to team up with one of the Freelancers sent to kill him and his wife.

This story is just full of awkward moments, isn’t it?

I have to say I think one of this series’ strengths is the way that Vaughan manages to make all of the characters interesting. None of the stories are ones I want to skip over, whether it’s The Will and Gwendolyn attempting the rescue of ... Read More

Bring the Jubilee: A brilliant alternative history where the South prevailed

Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore

Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee is a fairly obscure alternate-history story published in 1953 in which the South won the "War for Southron Independence." In this world, Robert E. Lee succeeds Jefferson Davis as the second president of the Confederacy in 1865. The Confederacy steadily expands its empire through Mexico and South America. Its chief rival is the German Union, which splits control of Europe with the Spanish Empire. In response, the Confederacy has allied with Great Britain, creating two opposing empires that straddle the Atlantic.

Strangely enough, slavery was abolished but minorities continue to face persecution, and poverty is rampant in the United States, the former Union states of the North. Other than a rich landowner minority, most people are indentured to their owners, effectively a form of slavery. In addition, the combustible engine, l... Read More