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Kindred: A complex exploration of the slave/slaver relationship

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Kindred
(1979) is Octavia Butler’s earliest stand-alone novel, and though it features time travel, it’s not really science fiction or fantasy. It’s an exploration of American slavery and its painful legacy from the eyes of a contemporary (well, circa 1976) young black woman named Dana. So don’t expect to learn why she keeps being pulled back in time to a pre-Civil War slave plantation in Maryland every time her ancestor, a white slave owner named Rufus Weylin, finds his life in danger. It’s a plot device that allows the reader to experience all the horrors of being a powerless black female slave in 1815 while retaining a modern perspective. So this book is firmly in the tradition of Alex Haley’s Roots (1976), Alice Walker’s The Color Purple Read More

Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum: Fairy dust magic and steampunk mechanics

Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum by Gregory Funaro

The strange adventures of Grubb, a young boy and former chimney sweep swept away to hair-raising magical escapades in Gregory Funaro’s Alistair Grim’s Odditorium, continue in Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum, the second volume in the ODDITORIUM series set in Victorian-era England. Grubb is starting to feel at home in the Odditorium, a magically mechanical ― or perhaps mechanically magical ― flying mansion of wonders built by Alistair Grim, an inventor and sorcerer. Magical energies in this universe are color-based, a detail that is likely to enchant young readers. They include yellow fairy dust from Gwendolyn the Yellow Fairy, which enables the Oddi... Read More

The Master: An epic game of chess

The Master by Claire North

The Master is the third and apparently final entry in Claire North’s wonderful THE GAMESHOUSE series of novellas. These stories are about a mysterious organization called The Gameshouse where elite patrons are invited to play for very high stakes. For example, they might win a prestigious political office, or they might lose the memories of their first love. Once they become involved with the Gameshouse, they belong for life and may be called on to participate in other players’ games.

In the first GAMESHOUSE novella, The Serpent, we met a 17th century Venetian woman who attempted to gain personal freedom from an abusive husband by helping another man become the doge of Venice. In the second novella, The Thief... Read More

The Ginger Star: “The Queen of Space Opera” comes roaring back

The Ginger Star by Leigh Brackett

Old-time fans of Leigh Brackett’s most famous character, Eric John Stark, would have to exercise a great deal of patience after the first three Stark stories — “Queen of the Martian Catacombs,” “Enchantress of Venus” and “Black Queen of Mars” — appeared in the pages of Planet Stories magazine, from 1949 - ’51. It would be a good 13 years before the author revisited her “Conan of the spaceways,” and then it was to only revise and expand the first and third tales to create the short novels The Secret of Sinharat and People of the Talisman. Another decade would pass before Brackett touched on the character again (to be fair, Leigh was more of a screenwriter for film and television at this point in her career), but in 1974, the patience of h... Read More

A Necklace of Raindrops: Eight charming children’s bedtime stories

A Necklace of Raindrops by Joan Aiken

Joan Aiken’s sweet collection of eight short children’s bedtime stories, originally published in 1968, has just been released in audio format by Listening Library. The audiobook is just over 1.5 hours long and is excellently and lovingly narrated by the author’s daughter, Lizza Aiken. It contains these stories:

“A Necklace of Raindrops”  ̶  Every year on her birthday, the North Wind gives Laura Jones a new raindrop for her necklace. Each raindrop gives Laura a special power. When a jealous schoolmate steals the necklace, Laura has to find it. Fortunately, since she is such a nice girl, she has friends to help.

“The Cat Sat on the Mat”  ̶  Emma’s impoverished family lives on a broken-down bus. When a fairy gives Emma a cat that grants wishes, Emma has the chance to make... Read More

Newt’s Emerald: A fantastical Regency romance

Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix

Here’s a charming young adult novel that you could file under both “Regency Romance” and “Fantasy.” In this fun story, Lady Truthful is celebrating her nineteenth birthday with her cousins when her slightly dotty father, a retired British admiral, brings out the family heirloom that Truthful will inherit in a few years. It’s an emerald that has magical power over the weather. As the admiral is displaying it, a fierce storm suddenly blows in and, in the hubbub, the emerald is stolen and the admiral is injured. To save the family heirloom, to keep its magic from falling into the wrong hands, and to protect her father’s fragile health, Truthful sets off to London to find her emerald.

Since it’s unsuitable for a proper young lady to be running about London by herself, Truthful disguises herself as a Frenchman. She gets help from a few people, including her great aunt and a handsome young m... Read More

This Census Taker: Miéville explores Wolfe country

This Census Taker by China Miéville

This Census Taker is a short novel by China Miéville. It’s almost a novella. The story could be psychological horror, but it’s stranger than that. I just finished rereading some Gene Wolfe, so I may be forgiven for interpreting This Census Taker as “China Miéville does Gene Wolfe.” Even the front flap describes the book as a “poignant and riveting exploration of memory and identity.” Buckle up, people, and keep your head and arms inside the vehicle at all times. This is Miéville exploring Wolfe country, and you never know what might bite.

The book opens with a little boy fleeing down a mountain to the village below. From the opening pages, the tone of the narrative... Read More

Penric’s Demon: A new Five Gods story!

Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold

It’s been ten years since Lois McMaster Bujold, one of my favorite authors, published a story set in her FIVE GODS fantasy world. This is the award-wining series that consists of The Curse of Chalion (2001, Mythopoeic Fantasy Award), The Paladin of Souls (2003, Hugo, Nebula, Locus Award) and The Hallowed Hunt (2005). I read these when they were first released, and I loved them, so maybe you can imagine how happy I was to hear that Bujold has written a new novella set in the same world.

I listened to the audio version of Penric’s Demon, read by Grover Gardner. He has become one of my favorite narrators since I listened to him read most of Bujold’s VORKOSIGAN Read More

The Girl with All the Gifts: Even a worn-out meme can have power

Reposting to include Rachael's new review:

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Melanie is ten years old, with skin as white as snow, just like in the fairy tale. But she doesn’t live in a tower; she lives in a cell, and is taken from there through the corridor to the classroom, and the shower room, where she is fed grubs once a week before a chemical spray falls from the ceiling. She knows that the place she lives in is called the block, and that the block is on the base, which is called Hotel Echo. They’re close to London and part of Region 6, which is mostly clear because the burn patrols kill the hungries. Her favorite teacher is Miss Justineau, who makes school days interesting and full of fun.

We quickly learn that the hungries are zombies — and at that point, I groaned; not another zombie novel! Haven’t we worn out this meme yet? But Read More

In the Hand of the Goddess: Squire Alan(na) delivers some hard knocks

In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce

In the Hand of the Goddess is the second installment of Tamora Pierce’s SONG OF THE LIONESS quartet, and while Pierce does provide a fair amount of backstory and repetition of key details from the previous book, Alanna, I recommend reading the books in sequence. By starting at the beginning, readers will have a better appreciation for the trials and challenges Alanna experiences in her quest to become a knight, as well as her struggle to maintain her false identity as “Alan,” since only boys are allowed to train in the king’s service. This review may contain a few spoilers for key events in Alanna, but I’ll do my best to keep them vague.

The book opens as Squire Alanna is visited by the Great ... Read More

The Fifth Season: Displays Jemisin’s stunning imagination

Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I am awestricken by the imagination of N.K. Jemisin, but it isn’t just her wild vision of a seismically turbulent planet that makes The Fifth Season so successful. Jemisin depicts her strange and harrowing world through the old-fashioned tools of fine writing and hard work, done so well that it looks easy – transparent – to the reader.

The world of The Fifth Season, or at least one large continent of it, is shaking apart. Against this backdrop we follow three different stories set in three different time periods, one in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe, two sometime earlier. The three storylines have themes and plot points that eventually converge, but the changes in narration let us as readers put together clues and see what’s going on even before some of the charac... Read More

The Humans: How alien the human race can seem

The Humans by Matt Haig

Andrew Martin is a distinguished mathematics professor at Cambridge University who has just discovered the solution to the Riemann hypothesis, thereby solving the secret of prime numbers and unlocking the secrets of the universe. That is, at least, until he is assassinated by an alien race and his body is taken over by a Vonnedorian agent intent on wiping out all traces of his mathematical discovery so that the puny human race will never hold the secret of the primes.

So begins The Humans, Matt Haig’s wry and satirical examination of the human race. Andrew Martin (more specifically, the alien who now inhabits his body) has woken up on planet earth. He is naked and he is in the middle of a motorway somewhere on the outskirts of Cambridge. When drivers in passing cars hurl abuse and spit on him, Andrew assumes this is the traditional form of human greeting and proc... Read More

The Seventh Bride: The miller’s daughter meets Bluebeard

The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher

One of the less well-known folk tales, Bluebeard, the tale of the aristocrat who has married several wives who have ominously disappeared, is dusted off and adapted by T. Kingfisher in The Seventh Bride, a middle grade/young adult fantasy. Note: Kingfisher is a pen name for Ursula Vernon, the Nebula award-winning author of the short story "Jackalope Wives"). Rhea, a fifteen year old miller's daughter, is unhappily and unwillingly engaged to Lord Crevan, a nobleman whom she doesn’t even know. Her parents urged her to accept Lord Crevan’s offer: their family is having trouble making ends meet and Lord Crevan is a friend of the local marquis. And you don’t turn down lords. But Rhea, who keenly feels her l... Read More

The Cat Who Came In off the Roof: A Dutch treat for cat lovers

The Cat Who Came In off the Roof by Annie M.G. Schmidt

Annie M.G. Schmidt, who died in 1995, was a beloved and well-respected author in the Netherlands, her native land. In 1988 she won the Hans Christian Anderson Award, the most distinguished international award in children's literature, which is granted to authors and illustrators whose body of work has made a lasting contribution to children's literature. Unfortunately, until now Schmidt’s work has not been published in the English language, so she is not well known in the U.S. That may change with the 2016 publication of her 1970 book, The Cat Who Came In off the Roof (Dutch title: “Minoes”), recently translated by David Colmer.

Tibble, a painfully shy reporter, is on the verge of losing his job with the Killenthorn Courier newspaper: his editor is tired of his articles about cats (“there’s... Read More

The Stargazer’s Sister: A quietly intimate portrait, strongly recommended

The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown

The Stargazer’s Sister, by Carrie Brown, is a wonderfully realized tale of Caroline Herschel, sister and essential assistant to her famed astronomer brother William. The highly fictionalized account (Brown cops in an afterword to making up events, characters, and shifting chronology) takes us deep into Caroline’s fears and desires throughout her long life, making for a quiet and moving character study.

The first chapter opens with Caroline and Herschel’s departure from Germany for England, where the two would spend most of their adult lives. It’s a nicely concise scene, introducing many of the story’s elements/themes in just a few pages. The stars, astronomy, the unbreakable bond between Caroline and William, as well as William’s primacy in that relationship all make an early appearance:
Around them, the night sky: resplendent, r... Read More

L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future: Volume 30

L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future: Volume 30 edited by Dave Wolverton

The Writers of the Future contest is held in high regard within the SFF field, largely because of the many fine writers who have had a boost to their early careers through it and the prominence of the judges (and despite its association with L. Ron Hubbard, of which more later). This volume contains some excellently-written stories and some which weren't to my taste but were well done anyway.

I'll go through the contents in detail. We start with pages and pages of boosterism from past winners, judges etc., which I skipped. Dave Wolverton's introduction can probably be skipped, too, as it just says how good it is to be a judge and how great the stories are.

Each writer, inc... Read More

Empire in Black and Gold: Ought not to work

Reposting to include Kevin's recent review:

Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky

If all I had to go by was the cover art (Tor 2008 edition), the title of the book and the synopsis, I probably wouldn’t give Adrian Tchaikovsky’s debut a second glimpse. After all, the artwork fails to capture the eye, the book title is bland, and the summary makes the novel sound formulaic. I mean how many times have authors written about a powerful ‘Empire’ bent on conquering the world and the unlikely heroes determined to stop them? For that matter, how many novels feature youthful protagonists who become much more than they ever dreamed of, haunted forests, a spy who can steal peoples’ faces, rescuing characters from slavers, inciting a revolution and so on? These are all common fantasy conventions utilized by Adrian Tchaikovsky, not to mention the requisite world map, hefty page count, and inevitable ... Read More

The Voice from the Edge Volume 5: Shatterday & Other Stories

Shatterday & Other Stories: The Voice From the Edge Vol. 5 by Harlan Ellison

Shatterday & Other Stories: The Voice From the Edge Vol. 5 is the final installment in Harlan Ellison’s 5-volume THE VOICE FROM THE EDGE series. It’s been quite a ride, and it’s hard to dispute that Ellison is a superb storyteller who can take an idea and run with it in the most original and twisted way, frequently delving into the dark and cruel side of human nature, but also celebrating moments of nobility and pathos along the way. His voice is powerful, unique, and very charismatic, so hearing him narrate his own work is a treat.

Like Vol. 4, not all the stories in Vol. 5 are narrated by Ellison himself. Fortunately the supporting cast are very skilled, and the stories really lend themselves to narration, so I didn’t h... Read More

The Voice from the Edge Volume 4: The Deathbird & Other Stories

The Voice from the Edge Volume 4: The Deathbird & Other Stories by Harlan Ellison

The Deathbird & Other Stories: The Voice from the Edge Vol. 4 is the fourth installment in Harlan Ellison’s 5-volume THE VOICE FROM THE EDGE series. He’s a born storyteller, without question the most passionate, intense and brilliant audiobook narrator I’ve ever experienced. He captures the characters’ quirks and attitudes, and narrates with masterful pacing and tone. This is the ideal showcase for him to read his favorite stories from a career spanning over 60 years.

Vol. 1 featured some of his best stories and narration, Vol. 2 was also excellent but not quite as brilliant as Vol. 1, and Vol. 3 had some top-notch stories and finished with two horror tales, the first narrated by Robert Bloch. Vol. 4 is the first collection in ... Read More

The Wild Shore: Are you waiting for America’s rebirth?

The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson’s debut novel, The Wild Shore, was first published in 1984 but its story begins decades after nuclear bombs were set off in America’s cities. Now, in 2047, Californian survivors in San Onofre dedicate their days to gathering food and maintaining their shelters rather than filming movies and computer programming.

Hank Fletcher, our narrator, is angry at the world. Unlike some angst-ridden teenagers, Hank has good reason to resent the world as all the other countries of the United Nations have agreed to prevent the American survivors from rebuilding. While the Californians struggle to figure out radios, they are spied upon by satellite. If the survivors show signs of repairing old railroads, patrolling Japanese ships launch missiles.

... Read More

The Voice From the Edge Volume 2: Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral

The Voice From the Edge, Vol 2: Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral by Harlan Ellison

As much as I dislike the man personally, I have to say that Harlan Ellison writes great stories. Even the stories that I don’t like — because they’re violent, gory, gross, or full of others varieties of ugliness — are good stories. And if there’s anything that Harlan Ellison does better than write great stories, it’s narrate them. He’s a superb story teller. That’s why I’ve picked up all of his Voice From The Edge recordings at Audible.com. Each is a collection of Ellison’s stories which he narrates himself. This second volume, Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral, contains these stories:

“In Lonely Lands” — (first published in 1959 in Fantastic Universe) This very short story is about loneliness, companionship, and dying. It’s touching and thought provoking.
“S.R.O” — (1957, Am... Read More

Chapelwood: Frightening, eerie and engrossing

Chapelwood by Cherie Priest

Maplecroft, the first book in Cherie Priest’s Lovecraftian series THE BORDEN DISPATCHES, was one of the best books of 2014. With Chapelwood, the sequel, Priest delivers again with an intricate, frightening story written in a completely different tone. Many familiar characters are back, and we meet some new ones, including some adversaries who are chilling, and not only because they are the servants of the Old Ones.

Leaving the chilly, coastal and very Lovecraftian setting of Fall River, Massachusetts, Priest sets Chapelwood in Birmingham, Alabama in the early 1920s. In the old estate of Chapelwood, a new congregation has set up, led by the charismatic Reverend Davis. The church is strange, indeed, and soon Birmingham... Read More

Iron Kissed: This story keeps getting better

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs

Patricia Briggs, who has explored werewolf and vampire societies in the first two volumes of her MERCY THOMPSON urban fantasy series, turns her attention to fae society in this third volume. In the second volume, Blood Bound, Mercy had been lent a powerful knife, a fae treasure, by Zee, her former boss and a fae, to kill a demon-ridden vampire. When Mercy used the knife for an additional and very much unauthorized purpose, she knew there would be consequences and that she would need to repay the favor in some way. It turns out that owing a favor to one of the fae is pretty much as dangerous as owing a favor to a vampire.

Like the werewolves, the fae have been gradually disclosing their existence and some of their members to humanity, based on the theory that with the ever-increasing sophistic... Read More

Lord of the Silver Bow: Big, bold, heroic and surprisingly good

Lord of the Silver Bow by David Gemmell

I tried reading David Gemmell's Lord of the Silver Bow about 9 months before I actually read it. It was heavy, plodding, and confusing. I was looking for a fun story full of action and adventure, and I love history... but, alas, I stopped reading after about 50 pages, and kind of figured that I was simply beyond the age when testosterone-fueled adventures could carry a story. I gave it a second shot, and it turns out, I was wrong. This first in Gemmell's trilogy that retells the story of the Trojan War is enjoyable, fun, and surprisingly deep.

Gemmell's language and themes are audacious and often mythic. The story and themes are soaked in an age of heroism when Gods were considered real, and honor and courage were as coveted as bronze. The dialogue drives big and bold themes, addressed by bigger and bolder men (mostly), and acted upon in th... Read More

Colonel Quaritch, V.C.: Far from a feeble novel

Colonel Quaritch, V.C.: A Tale of Country Life by H. Rider Haggard

Here is a free Kindle Version.

Almost 120 years before British author J.K. Rowling faced the pressure and the problem of how to follow a string of phenomenally successful novels, another British writer was faced with the same dilemma. H. Rider Haggard, between the years 1885 and 1887, had come out with four of the most popular novels of the late Victorian era: King Solomon's Mines (1885); its tremendous sequel, Allan Quatermain (1887); an extremely popular (and excellent) novel of the first Boer War, but one which is largely forgotten today, Jess (1887); and the seminal fan... Read More