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Cytonic: A detour into an unknown dimension

Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson

Humanity has been on the losing end of a centuries-long war with the Superiority, the main organization of galactic races, for decades, trapped on a desolate planet called Detritus and fighting an ongoing war using outdated, small spacecraft to keep from being exterminated. In the second book in this series, Starsight, Spensa Nightshade, a young spaceship pilot who first distinguished herself in Skyward, found a way to leave Detritus and travel to Starsight, a massive alien space station where the galactic government is located. Spensa joined the alien space pilot training program at Starsight while spying on the Superiority to try to find a way for humanity to better fight their captors. She also discovered the hyperjumping capabilities ... Read More

The Hidden Palace: Double the golems and jinnis

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker

In The Hidden Palace (2021) Helene Wecker returns to the richly-imagined world of The Golem and the Jinni, fin de siècle New York City, focusing on the Jewish and Syrian immigrant communities. Chava, an intelligent golem created by an evil-hearted genius, was set free by the unexpected death of her intended husband and master, left with the ability to hear the thoughts of all humans instead of just her master. The jinni Ahmad is released from the bottle that imprisoned him, but he is bound to tangible human form with no discernable way to remove the curse. Despite their opposite natures of earth and fire, golem and jinni are drawn together in a world where neither fits in, and both are hiding their true natures from t... Read More

Scarlet: A totally fresh take on Red Riding Hood

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet (2013) is the second novel in Marissa Meyer’s LUNAR CHRONICLES. You’ll want to read Cinder first. There will be some spoilers for that novel in this review.

In Cinder we met the titular cyborg, an orphan who lives with her hateful stepmother and two stepsisters in New Beijing. Cinder is the best mechanic in town, which is how she meets the young and handsome Prince Kai. He needs his personal robot fixed because, unbeknownst to Cinder, it may contain information about the whereabouts of Princess Selene, the rightful ruler of Luna, the human colony on the moon. Nobody knows if Princess Selene is alive but, if she is, Kai may be able to avoid a marria... Read More

Tales of the Greatcoats Vol. 1: A fond return to a warmly remembered world

Tales of the Greatcoats Volume 1 by Sebastian De Castell

“So I’m only in one of these nine Greatcoats stories?” Brasti asked, pausing his work.

“Yes,” De Castell replied. “Though to—”

“But Kest gets two?”

“The man knows talent when he sees it,” Kest said, skimming through the pages of Tales of the Greatcoats. “I especially like how you have me win a duel without actually fighting the duel. And … Hold on, I’m in only two?”

Brasti snorted. “The man knows talent.” He sighed. “I suppose Falcio is in all of ‘em.”

Falcio looked up from staring at the newborn daughter he cradled in his arms. “And deservedly so, given that—”

“Actually,” De Castell interrupted gently. “Falcio is also just... Read More

Foundation: Season One: A mixed bag, but generally good

Foundation: Season One on Apple TV+

In my first review of Apple TV’s Foundation series, written after the first two shows, I said it wasn’t “great” TV (at least not yet) but ranged consistently between good and very good. Having just finished all ten episodes of season one, I’d broaden that range from “occasionally annoying to occasionally great.” In other words, it’s a mixed bag, which I suppose shouldn’t be much of a surprise for a series that mostly follows three plot strands, has multi-decade time jumps, and is itself based on a series of loosely connected short stories that were later retconned into a larger universal narrative. I’ll send you to my earlier review for the plot summation. Here, I’ll assume you know the basic plot. I will look at the three narrative strands separately, then consider the series as a whole. Some spoilers for various episodes t... Read More

Roar of Sky: A solid conclusion to this magical alternate-history trilogy

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Roar of Sky by Beth Cato

Beth Cato concludes her BLOOD OF EARTH trilogy with Roar of Sky (2018), bringing the story of clandestine geomancer Ingrid Carmichael, which began in Breath of Earth and continued in Call of Fire, to an action-packed close. This review will contain some spoilers for events in previous books, so proceed with caution.

Badly wounded and permanently debilitated after her desperate fight in Seattle against Ambassador Blum, Ingrid and her friends Cy Jennings and Fenris Braun flee to Hawaii aboard the Palmetto Bug, a sma... Read More

Absynthe: Read it with the titular drink in hand for some extra fun

Absynthe by Brendan P. Bellecourt

Absynthe (2021) is the new novel by Brendan P. Bellecourt, the pen name of Bradley Beaulieu, author of the excellent SONG OF THE SHATTERED SANDS series. Talk about a change. Beaulieu leaves the desert far behind to head for the big noisy city in a complex Jazz Age/Psi-powers tale set in an alt-history US.

A decade ago America fought the Great War with the St. Lawrence Pact made up of Great Britain, Canada, France, and Germany. Liam Mulcahey is a veteran of that war, now working as a mechanic in Chicago, hanging out with his best friend and employer’s son Morgan, and taking care of his grandmother Nana. When he and Morgan attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony of a new train and overseen by the current President, Leland De Pere (Liam’s former commander), viole... Read More

First He Died: No Excedrin needed

First He Died by Clifford D. Simak

As I think I may have mentioned elsewhere, stories about time travel can sometimes give me a headache right between the eyes. And really, who among us hasn’t, at one time or another, come close to getting a major-league migraine when trying to suss out the temporal conundrums inherent in many of these tales? Fortunately for me — and my head — the novel that I have just experienced is one that does indeed feature time travel in its story line, but that lays out its complexities in a manner that leaves the reader blissfully headache free. The book in question is Clifford D. Simak’s second novel, First He Died; an early and surprisingly superior outing from the beloved future Grand Master.

First He Died has a some... Read More

No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished: Another fun Heartstriker story

No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished by Rachel Aaron

No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished (2016) is another fun installment in Rachel Aaron’s HEARTSTRIKERS series about a race of shapeshifters who can take on both human and dragon forms. The main character, Julius, is the youngest member of the powerful Heartstriker dragon clan, which is led by his ruthless mother. Unlike the rest of his family, Julius is a nice guy who, for most of his life, has felt like he doesn’t fit in. His mother, his siblings, and the members of the other dragon clans think Julius is a weakling. He gets absolutely no respect… until recently, when everything has turned around for Julius.

If you haven’t read the first two books, Nice Dragons Finish Last Read More

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (Volume 5): The Pickens County Horror and Others: Three stories of regular B.R.P.D. agents facing the supernatural

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (Volume 5): The Pickens County Horror and Others by Mike Mignola (writer), Scott Allie (writer), Jason Latour (art), Max Fiumara (art), James Harren (art), Dave Stewart (colors), Clem Robins (letters)

This volume collects three stories: “The Pickens County Horror,” “The Transformation of J. H. O’Donnell,” and “The Abyss of Time.” Liz is still missing and Abe Sapien is near death, so there are more regular B.P.R.D. recruits being sent out alone to deal with reports of the unnatural. That’s when two agents get called to Pickens County, a place that seems to be inhabited by vampires and perhaps other creatures. One of the agents, Vaughan, tells his partner about the time he went out on a mission with Hellboy and nothing happened. They are beginning to think this is another case with nothing to show. As they explore the countryside they discuss the tragedies occurring throughout the world as hell on earth seems... Read More

The Green Man Returns: Numar gets serious

The Green Man Returns by Harold M. Sherman

Near the conclusion of Harold M. Sherman’s 1946 novel The Green Man, the eponymous Numar, visitor to Earth from the far-distant planet Talamaya, makes some startling predictions in a speech to the world from Chicago’s Soldier Field. Among other things, the green-skinned space wanderer tells mankind that a Great Light that will one day arise in the East will usher in a new age of spiritual enlightenment and “a new harmony of being with all things.” He also tells the book’s scatterbrained leading lady, Betty Bracken, immediately before his departure, “Perhaps we shall all meet again, somewhere.” Well, although the passage of several decades would be required, Numar, as it turns out, is as good as his wor... Read More

One Good Dragon Deserves Another: Nice dragon saves the day again

One Good Dragon Deserves Another by Rachel Aaron

One Good Dragon Deserves Another (2015) is the second book in Rachel Aaron’s self-published HEARTSTRIKERS series. I listened to Audible Studio’s editions of these books with my 19-year-old daughter. We love the story and the performance of Vikas Adam, the narrator. This review will have some spoilers for the previous book, Nice Dragons Finish Last. If you haven’t read it, you should probably stop here and go do that first. Make sure to choose the audio edition!

Julius and Marcy are now business partners in the Detroit Free Zone where, thanks to one of Julius’ siblings, they’ve got a house to live in. They spend their time ridding the city of magical pests.

But the dragon clan drama never stops and soon enough Julius... Read More

Nice Dragons Finish Last: Great setting and characters, impressive plotting

Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron

Julius Heartstriker is the youngest son of Bethesda Heartstriker, the ambitious, aggressive, and ruthless matriarch of the powerful Heartstriker dragon clan. Bethesda is disappointed in her youngest son. He’s small, weak, nonthreatening and, worst of all, he actually likes humans. He’s just too nice.

To express her displeasure, and to put a fire in Julius’s belly, Bethesda banishes him to the Detroit Free Zone, a place ruled by an ancient spirit named Algonquin. Pretty much anything goes in the DFZ, but one thing that Algonquin won’t tolerate in her realm is dragons. For that reason, Julius is forced to remain in his human form, which is exactly how his mother intends to punish him. She’s giving him one month to prove his worth to his clan. The task he’s been given is to find the missing daughter of a rival dragon clan. If he doesn’t succeed, Bethesda will probably ea... Read More

A Gift for a Ghost: Four young women express themselves through art

A Gift for a Ghost by Borja Gonzalez (writing and art)

A Gift for a Ghost is a comic book of two intertwined stories, one from 1856 and the other from 2016. In 1856, a young woman, Teresa, talks with a skeleton, asking him why he is crying. After a short conversation, they go look at the stars. This scene is typical of the visions that Teresa has throughout the book. In 2016, another young woman, Gloria, gets dressed in her room, which is covered in music posters. A butterfly connects the two stories, flying out of 1856 into 2016, landing in Gloria’s room on the lampshade.

Gloria meets up with her two friends, Cristina and Laura. The three of them want to start a high school punk band — The Black Holes. Only they have one problem: None of them can play any instruments, of which Cristina has plenty in her basement, which is set up as a rehearsal room (decorated with rock posters and littered with horro... Read More

The Bone Shard Daughter: A fast-paced, enticing adventure

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

The Bone Shard Daughter (2020) by Andrea Stewart is a fast-paced, enticing read, with an attractive world and a magical system that grabs the imagination with both hands and doesn’t let it go.

Stewart’s debut is the first book of a series, THE DROWNING EMPIRE. In an archipelago empire, the imperial Sukai dynasty defeated the powerful Alanga, who ruled it. The current emperor, Shiyen, uses bone shard magic to protect his citizens from the possible return of the Alanga. Shiyen runs his empire using constructs, chimera-like beings animated by chips of bone taken from every citizen of the empire, usually when they are children. At events called Festivals, chips of bone are chiseled out of each child’s skull, sometimes with fatal results. Those chips, later implanted... Read More

King of the Dinosaurs: I know, it’s only Rok ‘N’ Kola, but I like it

King of the Dinosaurs by Raymond A. Palmer

In two of my recent book reviews here, for David V. Reed’s Empire of Jegga (1943) and for Nelson S. Bond’s That Worlds May Live (also 1943), I mentioned that both novels, in their current Armchair Fiction incarnations, feature copious, vintage footnotes from Raymond A. Palmer, the editor of Amazing Stories, the pulp magazine in which those tales first appeared. But what had not been sufficiently borne in upon me at the time was the fact that Palmer, bes... Read More

The Abaddon: Existential horror story

The Abaddon by Koren Shadmi (writing and art)

The Abaddon by Koren Shadmi is a horror story of existential dread: A man knocks on the door of an apartment, asking if this is the open house for a room to rent. He meets three out of the four housemates right away, as they are all relaxing in the living room. Unfortunately, when asked his name, he can’t quite remember it, and instead says to call him, “Ter.” Thus starts a surreal story in which questions without answers are the norm. Why are the windows covered up, for example? What happened to the guy who had the room before him? Why is the rent set at whatever he wants to pay? Why isn’t there a lease? And why does “Ter” have a bandage on his head?

Ter tries to sleep, but cannot turn out the light in his room, and he’s haunted by dreams of being on a military firing range. His sleep is soon disturbed by his peculiar roommates: a drunk Vic won... Read More

All of the Marvels: He read all of Marvel so you don’t have to

All of the Marvels: A Journey to the Ends of the Biggest Story Ever Told by Douglas Wolk

I have to confess that I went into Douglas Wolk’s All of the Marvels: A Journey to the Ends of the Biggest Story Ever Told  (2021) with a certain set of expectations, leading to some early disappointment as I read. But once I realized that my expectations were askew, and then eventually (admittedly a bit grudgingly at first) set them aside, I was able to settle in and enjoy Wolk’s work for what it was as opposed to being annoyed by what it was not. And what it was turned out to be pretty good.

Wolk’s book is based on an incredibly stupid idea. And if that sounds harsh, well, it’s only what Wolk himself says about his decision to read all 27,000-plus issues Marvel has put out since 1961, what he labels “the longest continuous, self-contained work of fiction ever created.” As he says, about the foolhardines... Read More

Dune: Lovely to see, but lacks character depth

Dune directed by Denis Villeneuve

It’s been many a year since I’ve read Frank Herbert’s Dune, so I can’t say with any authority where in the book Denis Villeneuve ends his film version, but I do feel comfortable saying it was too far. Because even at roughly 2 ½ hours, Dune the movie is too short to do justice to Dune the book. In fact, as that became more and more evident, I found myself thinking even more frequently that if Peter Jackson could get three movies out of The Hobbit (ignoring that he really didn’t), then Villeneuve should have been given three movies for Dune, not only a longer work but also a much more densely c... Read More

Medusa: A powerful retelling

Medusa by Jessie Burton 

If I told you that I'd killed a man with a glance, would you wait to hear the rest?

This question opens Jessie Burton's latest novel, Medusa (2021), a feminist retelling of the famous Greek myth. Told through the eyes of the snake-headed Medusa herself, the story reframes her tale as Burton uses myth to examine our own culture of victim-blaming, slut-shaming and toxic masculinity, provoking the question: Is Medusa truly a monster?

We meet Medusa as she stands on the edge of a cliff on the island she's been banished to, just as Perseus – the boy down below, on his boat – arrives on her shores. Medusa knows it is safest to remain hidden, but when her dog Argentus greets Perseus' dog Orado, she is forced down to the shore. She remains hidden as she talks ... Read More

No Gods, No Monsters: Thoughtful and well-crafted

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull

No Gods, No Monsters (2021) is one of the books that had me admiring it more than enjoying it. Strongly crafted on a sentence level, built on a structure both complex and deftly handled, and dealing with some seriously weighty themes, the book still left me, despite all that, a bit cold, a bit resistant to its charms. Still, as you’ll see, I’m mostly strongly recommending it, even if it didn’t wholly win me over.

We begin with a scene that seems all too familiar. One of the main characters, Laina, is at the morgue standing over the body of her brother Lincoln, an unarmed black man killed by a policeman as he was “running through the streets as bare as on the day he was born.” High, Laina assumes of her drug-addicted brother, but then rumors of a tape being kept secret by the police crop up, followed by a visit from Rebecca, one of Lincoln’s friends, who... Read More

Cloud Cuckoo Land: Transcends the sum of its parts

Reposting to include Ray's new review.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

What do a pair of young kids on the opposite sides of the fall of Constantinople, the protagonist of an ancient Greek tale, an eco-terrorist, a Korean war vet and former prisoner-of-war, and a young girl on a generation ship have in common? Well, besides all being major characters in Anthony Doerr’s newest novel, Cloud Cuckoo Land (2021). To find out what else ties them all together, you’ll have to read the book, which I do recommend despite some issues.

I’m going to leave the plot summary such as it is to the introduction, as part of the pleasure of Cloud Cuckoo Land is sorting through the pieces and seeing how they all fit together. Structurally, as you might guess, the novel’s a bi... Read More

Empire of Jegga: Lovely Vrita and Ho-Ghan’s heroes

Empire of Jegga by David V. Reed

I have a feeling that most people, when they begin a book in the genre of the Golden Age space opera, go in expecting a slam-bang action affair replete with starship battles, interplanetary conflict, weapons of superscience, hissable villains and cheerable heroes. Well, I am here now to tell you of a Golden Age space-opera novel in which all those aspects are indeed most certainly present, but in very much a secondary role. The book is one that you may very well be unfamiliar with, and for good reason, although its author’s name just might ring a bell among some of you.

The book in question is entitled Empire of Jegga, by the NYC-born writer David V. Reed, whose real name was David Levine. Reed’s first novel of four, Empire of Jegga initially appeared complete in the November 1943 issue of Amazing Stories (cover price... Read More

The Icepick Surgeon: An intriguing rogue’s gallery of scientific criminals

The Icepick Surgeon: Murder, Fraud, Sabotage, Piracy, and Other Dastardly Deeds Perpetrated in the Name of Science by Sam Kean 

Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.

~ Albert Einstein

Sam Kean is my favorite pop science author, ever since I read Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us in 2017. Kean has an engaging voice, a solid understanding of science, and a talent for telling stories, making complex subjects both intelligible and interesting to non-scientific readers (tellingly, he studied both physics and English literature). In his latest book, The Icepick Surgeon (2021), Kean turns his attention to the many ways in which science has been twisted to si... Read More

The Red Planet: A Natural History of Mars

The Red Planet: A Natural History of Mars by Simon Morden

Simon Morden’s The Red Planet: A Natural History of Mars (2021) is a detailed look at the history of Mars’ geology, and there lies both its appeal and, for some, perhaps, its lack of appeal. As fascinating as much of the book is, I confess it sometimes got a little too deep into the weeds (or the rock formations) for my own preferences, though having “too much information” is hardly a major indictment for a non-fiction work. And certainly the questions about how much water Mars had and when/for how long are fascinating, as is their connection to the possibility of life on the supposedly “dead” planet.

Morden begins, well, at the beginning. Or technically, if we’re talking about Mars, before the beginning, starting instead with the formation of the solar system and then explaining how the various planets, including Mar... Read More