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The Story of Kullervo: One for the completists/diehard fans only

The Story of Kullervo by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited and annotated by Verlyn Flieger)

Over the past few years we’ve seen several releases of J.R.R. Tolkien’s retellings of ancient tales combined with scholarly notes/lectures by him: The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, The Fall of Arthur, and Beowulf. At some point (for all I know, we’ve already reached it) the posthumously published material is going to be greater than what appeared in his lifetime. I have no idea how he himself would react to that, but as a fan, I’m pretty much in the “keep ‘em comin’” mode. The newest one is The Story of Kullervo, edited and annotated by Verlyn Flieger, and it falls more to the side of the Arthurian tale in that it’s probably best for Tolkie... Read More

The Twelve: Thrilling sequel expands epic story and mythology

The Twelve by Justin Cronin

Justin Cronin’s 2010 apocalyptic-vampire thriller, The Passage, debuted in the midst of the mass consumer love affair with the weird and supernatural. In the evolution of the vampire in pop culture, Anne Rice turned Bram Stoker’s blood-sucking villain into a romantic lead. Stephenie Meyer morphed Lestat into a high school heart-throb. Justin Cronin pulled the genre up and out of its romanticized and stagnating plateau to give the publishing world something more epic, more poignant, more ... genuine.

The Passage was a runaway success, though it left readers wanting more and hungrier than a 100-year old viral. Two years l... Read More

Archangel, Issue One, by William Gibson and Michael St. John Smith

 Archangel, Issue One, by William Gibson and Michael St. John Smith, Illustrated by Butch Guice

I kept my head down as I moved through the crowd. This mission was a total Hail Mary, two agents-in-place improvising because we had to work fast. Fankind risked his cover even talking to HQ, but if the intel was right, if he had what we thought he had… “Archangel, Issue One, by William Gibson,” he had said. “This could change everything.”

Rumors were only rumors, of course, but as I pretended an interest in the Cruisin’ The Main Drag Car Parade I couldn’t help, just for a few seconds, but dream. The first original comic co-written by William Gibson and Michael St. John Sm... Read More

Fall of Light: Takes a while to get going, but rewards the patient reader

Fall of Light by Steven Erikson

OK, look. I’m just going to put it on the table early on. I had a tough time with the beginning of Steven Erikson’s Fall of Light. And by “beginning,” I mean the first 150-200 of its 800-plus pages. It wasn’t just the pace (though it was admittedly more than a little slow). Or all the new characters (though really, one wonders at some point how many Tiste we haven’t met, not to mention Jaghut, Azathanai, Jhelken, Dragons, etc.). Or that there was a lot of table-setting going on (though given how book one had spent a good chunk of its 600 pages laying out the plates and silverware and glasses, I confess I’d expected the food to come a lot more quickly than it did).

All of those ... Read More

The Keeper of the Mist: A quietly charming traditional YA fantasy

The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier

Kerianna, the illegitimate daughter of the dissolute, ailing Lord of the country of Nimmira and a former serving girl, is a baker in the town of Glassforge who prides herself on the quality of her wedding cakes and other baked goods. It’s a struggling business, and Keri has to run it by herself since the death of her mother, but it’s modestly successful and Keri has hopes for the future.

Rule over Nimmira passes from parent to child, along with the magical power that enables the Lord or Lady of Nimmira to maintain the magical mists that hide the entire country from the powerful countries around it that would quickly take over Nimmira, if they only knew of its existence. Though Keri has daydreams of being the next ruler and fixing the problems of Nimmira, she, like everyone else in the country, expects leadership to fall to one of her three older half-brothers. So it’s a shock to ever... Read More

The City of Mirrors: An overlong but fitting conclusion to an excellent trilogy

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

The lengthy journey from Justin Cronin’s vampire apocalypse The Passage comes to a full conclusion (and maybe a bit more) in the third and final book, The City of Mirrors. If The Passage was absolutely great (and it really, really was), and the sequel The Twelve was good but not quite as, mostly due to it feeling much more its length than the first book did, then The City of Mirrors falls somewhere in between, though my guess is that some will react more negatively to a few of its elements than I did. It’s impossible to discuss this final book without spoilers for books one and two, so fair warning. Also, I’m going to assume you’ve read the first two books and so won’t other re-detailing characters and events.

The story focuses mostly on the hundred thousan... Read More

The Healer’s War: Harrowing tale of a Vietnam combat nurse

The Healer’s War by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

This is another Nebula winner I’ve had on the shelf ever since it was published in 1998, but hadn’t got around to reading. So when I found an audio version on Audible narrated by Robin Miles, one of my favorite female narrators after listening to N.K. Jemisin’s phenomenal The Fifth Season, that was enough to pull it to the top of my TBR list. Elizabeth Ann Scarborough is mostly known as a writer of humorous fantasy novels, along with several collaborations with Anne McCaffrey, so it was quite a surprise to discover that she was a combat nurse in Vietnam, and The Healer’s War is a fictional ... Read More

Zero K: I’ll take a second-tier DeLillo any year

Zero K by Don DeLillo

Don DeLillo, I’ve found, is one of those authors that splits readers down the middle. For myself, I definitely and whole-heartedly fall into the fan camp, with White Noise and Underworld being two of my favorite all-time novels, and Mao II and Libra not far behind. His newest, Zero K, doesn’t rise to their level (most novels don’t), but it is still classic DeLillo, filled with great sentences, dialog that sounds less like real people talking and more like a pair of students work-shopping their dissertations (one of the reasons he tends to split readers), cool musings on the intersection of technology and modern culture, and explorations of wealth, violent (almost apocalyptic) events, the modern senses of dislocation and isolation, the impact of media, and (a true DeLillo st... Read More

Teaching the Dog to Read: A surreal trip

Teaching the Dog to Read by Jonathan Carroll

Anthony Areal, a forgettable, average man, trending toward wet noodle, is astonished one day to receive an anonymous gift in the mail containing the watch of his dreams: a gorgeous $9,000 Lichtenberg ‘Figure’ wristwatch. For a few minutes he’s afraid it is a dream: the watch will probably disappear or turn into a pumpkin when he touches it. But the watch stays on Tony’s arm when he puts it there, and it’s followed a week later by his fantasy car, an $80,000 gray Porsche Cayman GTS, registered in his name. Tony is delighted. His co-workers are astounded. Lena Schabort, the office temptress, suddenly reevaluates Tony’s worth, personal as well as net.

When Tony meets his benefactor, it is the “night shift” version of Tony himself, who lives in Tony's dreams and can in some measure actually direct and control those dreams, making them become reality. Tony Ni... Read More

Time and Again: A leisurely tribute to 1882 New York

Time and Again by Jack Finney

Jack Finney’s Time and Again (1970) has been a long-time favorite among time-travel tales, and has remained in print since its first publication. It was also selected by David Pringle for his Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels. Since I’ve been on a time-travel trip lately, this was a must-listen. It’s narrated well by Paul Hecht, and is a long, leisurely, and loving tribute to the long-gone New York of the 1880s. Sure, there are some token mentions of poverty among the lower classes, diseases like polio, pocked faces, coal-fired factories spewing smoke, and Horatio Alger street kids scrabbling to survive. But the vast majority of the story is unabashed nostalgia for a more humane time, before modern life had crushed the spirit of man. It also features more rapturous details of classic NY architecture and city life t... Read More

Blood and Bone: One of the best in this series

Blood and Bone by Ian Cameron Esslemont

Blood and Bone is the penultimate book of Ian Cameron Esslemont’s main MALAZAN EMPIRE series (I say “main” because he has just begun a prequel trilogy) and while it has its issues, it easily ranks in my top three of the main series’ six titles thanks to a few well-drawn characters and, especially, thanks to its relatively unique setting.

That setting is the jungles of Jacuruku, one of the as-yet-unexplored continents of the Malazan universe. The continent is mostly split in half, with one side under the dominion of a group of sorcerers known as Thaumaturgs and the other half, referred to as “Himatan,” is ruled by the powerful and mysterious Ardata, worshipped by some as a goddess and by others as the Queen of Witches. As has periodically ... Read More

The Moon Pool: Exciting and accessible to modern readers

Reposting to include Sandy's new review:

The Moon Pool by Abraham Merritt

Abraham Merritt’s The Moon Pool was originally published as two stories in All-Story Weekly (“The Moon Pool” and “Conquest of the Moon Pool”) and combined into a novel in 1919. Its copyright has expired, so you can find it at Project Gutenberg or as a free Kindle e-book at Amazon.

The Moon Pool is supposedly a layperson’s account (transcribed by Abraham Merritt) of Dr. Walter T. Goodwin’s exploration of the ancient ruins of Nan Madol in the South Pacific. Dr. Goodwin, a famous botanist, had run into... Read More

The Fireman: Baby King delivers his own incendiary apocalypse

The Fireman by Joe Hill

First of all, Joe Hill‘s The Fireman is no horror story. It's apocalypse-lit through and through but without the hackneyed zombies and vampires. Second of all, The Fireman is thoroughly infected with the 'King' family genetics. If there were any doubt about a connection between Joe and his old man, Stephen King, put those doubts aside. Actually, put them in the way-back storage room in the furthest, darkest corner of your basement.

Fires run rampant across the world. It started in the far north of the Arctic Circle, but only hit the public American radar when Seattle’s Space Needle toppled over in flames, bodies falling in a replay of 9-11. This was not a terrorism-fueled horror... Read More

House of Chains: Good but with some rough edges

House of Chains by Steven Erikson

Being the fourth entry in Steven Erikson’s sprawling series THE MALAZAN BOOK OF THE FALLEN, House of Chains continues with the storyline first started in Deadhouse Gates and somewhat loosely with the repercussions of the explosive climax to Memories of Ice. I won’t bother trying to summarize the setup of the book, and readers are expected to have knowledge of the previous books. So, if you have not yet read them — and I would suggest you give at least Gardens of the Moon a try — then I wouldn’t recommend reading this review.

Breaking from tradition, the first chapters of House of Chains lets go of the juggling back and forth between viewpoint characte... Read More

Replay: Imagine reliving your prime years over and over

Replay by Ken Grimwood

Replay is a story that every reader can empathize with. Who wouldn’t want to relive their best years over again, with all their memories intact? Fixing all the mistakes, seizing all the missed opportunities. It’s an irresistible thought, a fantasy of “what ifs.” Ken Grimwood’s Replay (1986) predates Groundhog Day (1993) by 7 years, and explores the concept in far more depth, taking it to the extreme to examine what gives our lives meaning. It’s a very appealing story, and delivers some powerful moments in the latter half.

Replay is about 43-year-old Jeff Winston, who dies of a heart attack and finds himself back as an 18-year-old student at Emory University with all his memories intact, reliving this 25 year period over and over. This could easily be simple wish-fulfillment fantasy, and it star... Read More

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang: Send in the clones

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm

Sometimes, a book just has to be given a second chance. Case in point for this reader: Kate Wilhelm’s Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang. When I first started this book around 35 years ago, I could not get past page 20 or so, for some strange reason, and placed it back on my bookshelf unread, where it has remained all this time. Flash forward to last week, when I decided to give the book another chance (what with my supposed adult sophistication and matured patience), and guess what? The novel immediately sucked me right in, and I wound up zipping through the darn thing in record time, reveling in its lovely prose and completely engrossed in its multigenerational narrative. Go figure! Though it was not the author’s first book on the subject of cloning (that would be her debut sci-fi novel f... Read More

Strange Monsters: An entrancing musical/literary performance

Strange Monsters by Peter Brewer & Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

I’ve been a fan of Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam’s short fiction for a few years. She captures a lovely intersection between the mundane and the mythic in her stories, so when she asked if I’d like to review her newest collection, I jumped at the chance. Strange Monsters (2016) is a music-and-words collaboration between Stufflebeam and Peter Brewer, a jazz musician and Stufflebeam’s partner. Over melodies both slow and easy, and chaotic and exciting, a cast of actors reads five short stories and five poems by Stufflebeam. The resulting listening experience is fulfilling, funny, and ultimately haunting.

The first story, “The Stink of Horses,” was inspired by a real-life quote from Chekhov about how dancers stink like horses. It tells the story of Marina Golovina, a mysterious Russian ballerina who inspires obsession, posses... Read More

Song of Kali: A terrific horror novel from a future Hugo Award winner

Song of Kali by Dan Simmons

In Jones & Newman's Horror: 100 Best Books, Edward Bryant, writing of his choice for inclusion in that overview volume, Dan Simmons' Song of Kali, mentions that Simmons had spent precisely 2 1/2 days in Calcutta before writing his first book, in which that city plays so central and memorable a role. Despite Simmons' short stay, Bryant reveals that the author filled "voluminous notebooks" with impressions and sketches of the city, and any reader who enters the grim but remarkably detailed horror novel that is Song of Kali will be amazed that its author spent such a short time there. The city is superbly well depicted in this book, and indeed is its most fully fleshed-out "character:" a vile, overcrowded, steaming cesspool of a city that breathes iniq... Read More

Passenger: A perilous voyage through time

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

Whilst the concept of time travel itself is nothing groundbreaking, a time-travelling violin virtuoso and a swashbuckling sailor from different centuries is. Alexandra Bracken’s Passenger opens in present-day New York where our protagonist, young violinist Etta Spencer, is on the verge of making her solo debut. But mid-performance she is dragged through a ‘passage’ and finds herself in the midst of a battle between two ships in the Atlantic... in 1776.

Enter Nicholas Carter, an 18th century privateer born as the result of a white man’s rape of an African slave, who is tasked with delivering Etta to his employer. Said employer is the formidable Cyrus Ironwood, head of a powerful time-travelling family who intends to make sure that he has control over all of the historical ... Read More

Roche Limit (Volume 1): Anomalous by Michael Mordeci and Vic Malhotra

Roche Limit (Volume 1): Anomalous by Michael Mordeci and Vic Malhotra

Roche Limit (Volume 1): Anomalous is an excellent science fiction comic book and the first of a projected three volumes, though this first volume really does stand alone as a fully completed storyline: There is no cliffhanger, though future volumes will apparently take us back to the world of Roche Limit. The second volume is already available in trade, and the first issue of the third story arc has already been published. The story takes place in the future in a small colony on a small planet. The colony has been around for about twenty years, and there is already an extreme divide between the wealthy and the working laborers. In addition, tho... Read More

The Visible Man: Spying on Others

The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman

Therapist Victoria Vick has taken on a new client, Y___. He has a suit that renders him invisible, though he doesn’t like that term, and he uses the suit to watch people when they think they are alone. He feels guilt, but he also thinks that his guilt is illogical. So, he has come to Vick for therapy.

Why should Y___ feel guilt when his project of observing people is so important? Watching people who do not know they are being watched has become his life’s work, and there is no doubting Y___’s dedication to observing others. He has studied yoga to the point that he can remain still for hours at a time. Though careful to avoid addiction, Y___ takes stimulants so that he can maintain his surveillance for days if necessary. He has also devised numerous ways to get into people’s homes unobserved.

The central conflict in Chuck Klosterman’s The Vis... Read More

The Dark World: Another great fantasy from Kuttner & Moore

The Dark World by Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore

1946 was a very good year indeed for sci-fi's foremost husband-and-wife writing team, Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore. Besides placing a full dozen stories (including the acknowledged classic "Vintage Season") into various magazines of the day, the pair also succeeded in having published three short novels in those same pulps. The first, The Fairy Chessmen, which was released in the January and February issues of Astounding Science-Fiction, was a remarkable combination of hardheaded modernist sci-fi and almost hallucinatory reality twists. Valley of the Flame, from the March issue of Startling Stories, was an exciting meld of jungle adventure, Haggardian l... Read More

Sexing the Cherry: The power of the imagination

Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson

Those who have read Jeanette Winterson before may not be surprised by Sexing the Cherry. Those who haven’t, or who have only read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (as I had) may wonder what on earth they have got themselves into. It is a weird story, a surreal experience, and it is meant to be so.

In Sexing the Cherry Winterson celebrates the power of the imagination. Much of the book is the extended flight of fancy of the hero Jordan. He takes the reader to the magical places he visits and introduces us to the characters he meets. These passages read like short stories and are reminiscent of the darkest, most dangerous fairy tales. Winterson also explores the nature of time and asks complex questions about the meaning... Read More

Rebel of the Sands: Gun-slinging Wild West meets Arabian Nights

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

You’ll find no meek or modest brides, no princesses in distress in this Arabian tale. Amani Al’Hiza is our gun-toting, liquor-swigging heroine in this debut from Alwyn Hamilton, who needs to escape from her deadbeat hometown of Dustwalk, or end up wed or dead.

We first meet our sixteen-year-old heroine Amani dressed as a boy, entering a shoot-out to try and win the prize money that’ll get her out of Dustwalk. She is an ace shot, maybe the best in her town, so the competition should be in the bag. That is, until she meets a dark-eyed foreigner called Jin that seems to have as much to hide as she does. When the shoot-out goes awry, Amani and Jin only just manage to escape, but Amani winds up having to return home, a little poorer and a little more bruised than she set out.

Things go from bad to worse. Not only does home consist of a cramped room shared with h... Read More

Black Dog: Not just a bow-wow — a big wow

Black Dog by Caitlin Kittredge

Wow. Please fasten your seat belts and do not attempt to stand up until the book has come to a full and complete stop, because you are about to embark on the fast-paced, twisty-curvy, snarky-poignant thrill ride of Caitlin Kittredge’s Black Dog, Book One in THE HELLHOUND CHRONICLES.

Ava is a hellhound, indentured to a reaper, a demon who makes deals for people’s souls. When the time is right, Gary (yes, her reaper’s name is Gary) sends Ava to collect. While she can do this in human form, Ava can change to a hellish canine if necessary — and often does.

Ava is little more than a slave, and in the rigid hierarchy of hell, hellhounds are near the bottom. When a human necromancer persuades her to steal Gary’s Scythe, Ava reluctantly seizes a ... Read More