Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick
It’s easy to be skeptical when you crack open a book by Philip K. Dick; his output is hit or miss. The psychotic craziness of Dick’s personal life so often leaked into his writing that on more than one occasion his work features plots and themes derailed by a chaos seemingly external to the text. In the moments Dick was able to focus his drug and paranoia-fueled energies into a synergistic story, the sci-fi world benefited. Martian Time-Slip, just falling shy in quality to The Man in the High Castle or A Scanner Darkly, is one of these occasions.
The setting is Mars thousands of years in the future when the red planet is experiencing its second wave of civilization. The Bleekmen (Dick’s less than subtle name for Africans) are being pushed to the wastelands while those of European descent terraform the planet ... Read More
Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick
Maddigan’s Fantasia by Margaret Mahy
Early in the 22nd century, the world underwent a vast and radical change, in which the tectonic plates of the Earth shifted and a series of devastating earthquakes changed the face of the planet. As a result of these events — now known as the Great Chaos — the population has severely dropped and most technology has been lost. What remains is a dangerous wilderness where communities are isolated and bandits roam the unmapped highways.
Yet out of the ashes of the old world comes Solis, the shining city. It is here that the circus troupe known as Maddigan's Fantasia spends each winter before heading out every year to explore new lands, collect lost knowledge and spread some colour and joy to those living in a post-apocalyptic world.
But this year things are different. Because Solis is powered by the sun, it is in desperate need of a new solar converter if the... Read More
Stone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood is hardly an unappreciated author. Booker winner, seemingly constant nominee for the Orange and Booker prizes, Harvard Arts Medal, Orion Book Award, and the list goes on. But one thing I’d say she doesn’t get enough credit for is her humorous touch, which can be scathingly, bitingly funny, and which is on frequent display in her newest collection of short stories, Stone Mattress: Nine Tales.
The anthology is comprised of nine “tales” (in the afterword, Atwood explains why she prefers that descriptor), the first three of which — “Alphinland”, “Revenant”, and “Dark Lady” are tightly linked by character and events. The others are independent, though they do share some similar themes and characters — vengeance, the travails (and pleasures) of aging, a deliciously macabre tone. Like nearly all such collections, some stories ... Read More
The Secret History of Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle
The basic premise of the SECRET HISTORY anthologies (there's also a science fiction one, The Secret History of Science Fiction, which I haven't read) is that there's a type of writing that got missed or buried because other things were more popular, more commercial, or dodged the spec-fic labeling. Certainly that's the thrust of Peter S. Beagle's introduction, and the two other non-fiction pieces by Ursula K. Le Guin and editor David G. Hartwell.
In the case of fantasy, this type ... Read More
Star-Begotten by H.G.Wells
Released 39 years after his seminal sci-fi novel The War of the Worlds was published in 1898, and just two years before Orson Welles scared the bejeebers out of U.S. listeners with his radio play of that same novel, 1937's Star-Begotten finds its author, H.G. Wells, returning to the Red Planet to tell us more about those mysterious and pesky Martians. Written when Wells was 71, this latter work — rather than being a tale of action and mayhem and a truly groundbreaking instance of the then-still-new science fiction (or, to use the term that Wells preferred, "scientific romances") — is more a novel of ideas and speculation, of satire and bitter condemnation, and, I have a feeling, is a largely unknown work today. And that is a shame, as it is obviously a deeply felt work; an appeal to reason in a... Read More
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
I’m not sure what’s been in the air lately, but it seems I’ve been reading a lot of books this past year dealing with reincarnation/being reborn. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is yet another of those, and while it isn’t my favorite of the ones I’ve read with similar ideas (that would be either Life After Life by Kate Atkinson or The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell), I thoroughly enjoyed Claire North’s novel, though the first half was better than its second half.
In the world of Harry August, a small group of people (called Kalachakra or ouroborans, after the worm that eats its own tail) are born, live their lives, ... Read More
The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise about The Magician’s Land, the third installment in Lev Grossman’s MAGICIANS trilogy is its map. The first two books, which I read on a Kindle, didn’t have maps. This one did, and it’s great.
What I like about this map, entitled “The Worlds of Quentin Coldwater,” is that it’s not actually very cartographic. It lacks a legend, it does not show Fillory from the point of view of a flying dragon, and it does not list countries. In other words, the world has not been limited, so there’s plenty of room for imagination and exploration. A careful study of the map will reveal very little about which lands our heroes will visit or what will happen to them there.
And it’s a fitting introduction to The Magician’s Land.
The Ma... Read More
Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer
I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Jeff VanderMeer’s first two books in his SOUTHERN REACH series, Annihilation and Authority, end up on my top ten list for the year, so it was with great excitement and high expectations that I opened up Acceptance, the third and final book of the trilogy. Having finished, I can’t honestly say those expectations were wholly met, though my lack of satisfaction has less to do with any real complaints about the novel itself and more about the question I had at the end, which was, if it was still a good novel, was it a necessary one? Thinking about it a day later, I’m still not sure about the answer to that.
While I’m going to try as much as possible to avoid spoilers for Acceptance (which admittedly may make this ... Read More
Engraved on the Eye by Saladin Ahmed
The first story in Saladin Ahmed’s Engraved on the Eye is about the meeting of the two main characters in his novel Throne of the Crescent Moon, and I liked it enough that it inspired me to look for the novel. I can see what the critical fuss is about: Ahmed writes smoothly and well, has interesting protagonists, and makes their choices matter.
Early on in the collection, it looked as if all the protagonists were going to be young Muslims struggling with faith and ethical choices as well as with life, but later in the book we got a couple of stories where this wasn't the case (and another where it was). In all but the last story, though, a well-told sword-and-sorcery tale with an unusual ending (for sword-and-sorcery), the main character was either Muslim, a member of an ethnic minority, or both. "Write what you know" is good writing advice,... Read More
The Trial of Terra by Jack Williamson
Jack Williamson's The Trial of Terra made its initial appearance in 1962, as one of those cute little Ace paperbacks (D-555, for all you collectors out there). The book is what's known as a "fix-up novel," meaning that parts of the book had appeared as short stories years earlier, and then skillfully cobbled together by the author later on to form a seamless whole. Despite this, the book is a stand-alone novel in the Williamson canon, with no relation to any of the other books in the author's substantial oeuvre.
The Trial of Terra tells a very interesting story, and one that might strike my fellow Trekkers as a bit familiar. It seems that there has been a galactic Quarantine Service in effect for many millennia, its job being to ensure that no planet makes first con... Read More
The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit by Graham Joyce
It’s the end of August, a time when each day seems noticeably shorter than the one before, when kids are getting haircuts and school supplies and heading back to school, when Thanksgiving and Christmas seem to be just around the corner. It’s a time for taking stock; for many of us, for those who loved the return to the classroom each fall with new resolutions to get good grades and excel at our extracurricular activities, it is more a time for such reevaluation of one’s life, hopes, goals and habits than is New Year’s Day. Perhaps that is why the coming-of-age novel is almost always set in the summer. Graham Joyce’s tale of a young man working at a summer resort, The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit,belongs on the same shelf as other great stories of haunted summers, like Read More
The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014 edited by Rich Horton
I've been reading a lot of anthologies lately, including another of the several "Year's Best" collections (the Jonathan Strahan one). I was pleased to find that, unlike some of the others, this one matched my tastes fairly well for the most part.
I enjoy stories in which capable, likeable or sympathetic characters, confronted by challenges, confront them right back and bring the situation to some sort of meaningful conclusion. I was worried when I read the editor's introduction and saw him praising Lightspeed and Clarkesworld magazines, because they can often be the home of another kind of story, in which alienate... Read More
Mary of Marion Isle by H. Rider Haggard
The great H. Rider Haggard wrote a total of 58 novels before his death in May 1925, and of that number, four were released posthumously. Mary of Marion Isle was his penultimate creation, one which he wrote in 1924, although, as revealed in D.S. Higgins' biography of Haggard, the idea for the story first came to him in 1916, while sailing to Australia and watching the albatrosses circling his ship. The novel was ultimately released in April 1929, and, as stated by Higgins, was limited to a run of only 3,500 copies by the publisher Hutchinson & Co. Somehow, many years ago, I got my hands on one, and in fair shape, too. I'm glad I did, because it turns out to be another wonderful Haggard adventure, although many reviewers (Higgins included) tend to denigrate these later Haggard titles as being mere rehashes of older works. Well, I suppose that some of the themes and set pieces in... Read More
The Gypsy by Steven Brust and Megan Lindholm
Experienced police man Mike Stepovich anf his green partner Durand apprehend a gypsy suspected of murdering a shopkeeper. Stepovich immediately notices something strange about the gypsy and does something he's never done in his long career. He fails to turn in the knife the gypsy is carrying. Somehow he knows the gypsy is not the murderer and the knife is special. Later that night, the gypsy disappears without a trace from the police cell they are holding him in. Murder investigations are not the territory of an ordinary patrol cop but this case does not let him go, especially when the body of an old gypsy woman turns up. Again, the suspect Stepovich and his partner arrested seems to be involved and Stepovich is determined to find him. His search will lead him into a supernatural power struggle the existence of which he never suspected.
The Gypsy (1992) is an u... Read More
Under a Graveyard Sky by John Ringo
I have friends who are “preppers”: people who stockpile supplies and make solid plans for what to do in the event of a natural disaster or complete collapse of society. Under a Graveyard Sky tells the story of the kind of scenario my friends have planned for, and of how the world as we know it could unravel if the Zombie Apocalypse occurred.
Steve Smith and his family are normal people who have taken serious precautions in case the world comes to an end. Some of their preparations make lots of sense, like being able to secure their home against bad weather and other disturbances. So when Steve’s brother, who shares the family outlook on disaster preparedness, alerts them to a potentially world-ending crisis, the family is prepared.
The story of a virus or other plague sweeping across the world and turning people into mindless, savage, flesh-eating... Read More