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The Fifth Heart: Moving and thoughtful

The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons

There are several issues with Dan Simmons’ new novel, The Fifth Heart. It’s too long for one, its 600+ pages probably a good 100-150 pages too many. Simmons has fallen too much in love with his research, slowing the book in multiple places. He drops one of the more intriguing storylines a bit too easily. And the mystery/resolution are a bit anti-climactic. That said, The Fifth Heart still works as a smart literary mix of adventure, historical fiction, and metafiction, even if it could have been better with some pruning.

The year is 1893 and Henry James, depressed over his career, his fast-approaching mid-century birthday, and the recent death of his sister is about to commit suicide by stepping into the Seine River when a man steps out of the shadows and interrupts him. The man, to James’ surprise, is Sherlock Holmes, whom Jam... Read More

Ares Express: This ain’t Mars like you’ve ever seen it before

Ares Express by Ian McDonald

There’s really something special about Ian McDonald’s Mars books. McDonald’s Mars is a place I love to visit in all of its crazy, off the wall, illogical glory. I’ve rarely seen the numinous, and irrational, nature of magic so well displayed in fantasy books, let alone in a sci-fi one (the exception would have to be Sean Stewart who is also expert at such depictions, though in a very different vein). Despite the strangeness of McDonald’s Mars, I’ve rarely seen such a consistently envisioned and joyfully painted world.

Ares Express is a hell of a lot of fun and it even taught me a few things: 1) Hell hath no fury like a failed art student; 2) If something is going to run your life it might as well be the Rules of Narrat... Read More

Fantasy Super Pack #1: Something for everyone

Fantastic Stories Presents: Fantasy Super Pack #1 edited by Warren Lapine

Fantasy Super Pack #1 , which is available for 99c in Kindle format, is an enormous collection of 34 stories presumably showcasing the taste of the editor of Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, an online magazine. As I'm interested in submitting to the magazine, I picked it up, and thoroughly enjoyed most of the stories, none of which I remembered reading before though I'd heard of several of them.

I like stories that have a narrative arc, that build tension and then resolve it at the end, more than the currently-fashionable type of story that just stops at a thematic moment (or, I often suspect, when the author runs out of ideas). Based on this collection, Lapine also likes the narrative-arc kind of story. Some of the stories had fairly predi... Read More

The Best of Connie Willis: Everyone must read Connie Willis

The Best of Connie Willis by Connie Willis

Connie Willis has received a staggering eleven Hugo and seven Nebula awards in her career, an achievement nobody has equaled. Her induction in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2009 and receiving the SFWA Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement in 2011 can hardly be called surprising. Of her novels, three or four, depending on whether or not you count the two volumes Blackout and All Clear as a single work, have won awards, the rest Willis received for her short fiction.

The Best of Connie Willis: Award-winning Stories contains ten pieces of fiction, ranging from short stories to novellas. As the title suggests each has won at least one award. Willis has written an introduction to the collection and brief afterwords for each of the stories. Three of her acceptance speeches have also been added. The stories... Read More

The Six-Gun Tarot: A crazy-wild desert town and a roller-coaster adventure

The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher

You can’t create good fantasy by just throwing a bunch of different belief systems into a pot and stirring. You can’t mix, for instance, Chinese belief systems with Mormon lore, or traditional Judeo-Christian mythology with Gnosticism. Everyone knows that, right? Thank goodness R.S. Belcher never got that particular e-mail! In The Six-Gun Tarot, he uses all those beliefs and more to create a dark, suspenseful, captivating adventure.

The Six-Gun Tarot is set in Nevada in 1869. Golgotha manages to be a thriving town, even though the Argent Mountain silver mine that drew people there seems to be played out. Jim Negrey, a young man on the run, nearly dies in the desert before he is discovered by a half-Native American man who calls himself Mutt. Mutt takes J... Read More

Hurricane Fever: Fast action amid climate change

Hurricane Fever by Tobias Buckell

I very much enjoyed Tobias Buckell’s 2012 SF novel Arctic Rising, which was set on a near-future Earth dramatically affected by global warming. As much as I loved that novel’s main character Anika, I mentioned in my review that I wouldn’t mind reading a novel set in the same world but featuring one of its two excellent supporting characters, Vy or Roo.

Lo and behold, just about two years later, Buckell delivers Hurricane Fever, starring former Caribbean Intelligence Group operative Prudence “Roo” Jones, who made a brief but memorable appearance in the first novel. I’m happy to report that Hurricane Fever is another excellent near-future cli-fi/spy-fi/techno-thriller novel — whatever you want to call it, it’s mor... Read More

The Chronoliths: Monoliths from the future

The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson

Scott Warden, known to most as “Scotty,” kept his wife and daughter, Janice and Kaitlin, in Thailand after the coding contracts dried up. Scotty now spends most of his time aimlessly “just living” in the ex-pat beach culture. Scotty’s broke, but at least he doesn’t deal drugs like his buddy, Hitch Paley. Drug dealer he might be, but Scotty figures that Hitch is basically a good guy, deep down.

It’s Hitch that takes Scotty along the back roads to see the first Chronolith.

The Chronolith is impressive and mysterious. Where did it come from? It marks the first victory of Kuin  — except that it’s dated twenty years in the future. When Scotty returns from seeing the first Chronolith, he discovers that his daughter got sick and had to be hospitalized. Janice tried to contact Scotty but couldn’t find him. It’s the last straw for her, and she returns to her h... Read More

The Mechanical: Strong characters, intriguing world, big questions

The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis

I’m a sucker for early natural philosophers, so I admit the pre-publication description of The Mechanical, Ian Tregillis’ new novel, pretty much had me at, “Soon after the Dutch scientist and clockmaker Christiaan Huygens…” The rest of the blurb, about a “mechanical army” of “Clakkers” allowing the Netherlands to become the world’s sole superpower, the French trying to make a last stand in North America, and an “audacious Clakker, Jax” making “a bid for freedom”? Icing on the cake. And a sweet, rich cake it is, too.

The Mechanical begins two centuries after Huygens’ discoveries paved the way for the Netherlands’ creation of the Clakkers — clockwork servitors/soldiers. The Brasswork Throne dominates the world, and has just co... Read More

Scion of Cyador: A well-balanced and politically complex story

Scion of Cyador by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Scion of Cyador is the direct sequel to Magi'i of Cyador and chronologically the earliest book in the series, though it is the eleventh of eighteen books (to date). I read Magi'i of Cyador a while ago and I couldn't suppress the urge to read the sequel any longer. This book is a little less focused on battles and a bit more on politics, especially the second half. L.E. Modesitt is very good at letting the reader see all the little signs of change and what they add up to. It's one of the longer SAGA OF RECLUCE books but well worth the read.

After his excursions within the Accursed Forest, Lorn is sent to the port city of Biehl, generally considered a quiet outpost where chances of getting involved in skirmishes with the barbar... Read More

Last and First Men: The ultimate vision of man’s evolution

Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon

Olaf Stapledon's vision of mankind's entire future history until the end is profound, beautiful, and affecting, and was written way back in 1930. It is unfortunate that Last and First Men has not found a wider audience, though it had a deep impact on many of science fiction's luminaries, including Arthur C. Clarke, who indicated that this book and its later successor Star Maker were the two most influential books he had ever read. In my mind, it is one of the most imaginative early SF classics ever written, and is just as important as the works of H.G. Wells.

Stapledon touches on many themes that still resonate today, particularly mankind's potential for both great achievements an... Read More

The Way of the Spirit: A fast-moving, unusual type of Haggard novel

The Way of the Spirit by H. Rider Haggard

Even in the modern-day 21st century, it can be a difficult situation for a husband to be in love with a woman who just happens not to be his wife. For the Victorian/Edwardian gentleman, however, especially for one of a highly moral and religious bent, the situation must have been even harder, particularly if that man were a well-known and highly respected public figure. And yet, that is exactly the lot that befell renowned British author H. Rider Haggard. I am only familiar with the bald outlines of the case (after having just completed my 42nd Haggard novel, out of the author's 58, I really do need to finally pick up his autobiography The Days of My Life, or at least the Cohen or Higgins biography), but it seems that Haggard initially met the love of his life, Lilly Jackson, in the late 1870s while work... Read More

Empire: A tense, can’t-put-it-down adventure

Empire by John Connolly & Jennifer Ridyard

(Warning, may contain spoilers for Conquest.)

Empire, by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard, is filled with action, suspense, and characters we care about. It is YA but adults will enjoy it.

In Conquest, the first book of THE CHRONICLES OF THE INVADERS, Earth had been conquered by a technologically superior race, the Illyri. Syl, a young woman, was the first Illyrian born on Earth. Paul Kerr was a member of Earth’s Resistance movement. Fate threw these two unlikely lovers together, but their commitment goes beyond their feelings for each other. Paul and Syl uncovered a conspiracy by a parasitic alien race that is controlling many of the Illyrians. Now, in Empire, Read More

Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology: An examination of what defines the genre

Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology edited by Bruce Sterling

There are a handful of people who have/had their finger on the pulse of cyberpunk. Love him or hate him, Bruce Sterling has perhaps two. In 1986 he decided to pull together a collection of stories he felt were representative of the sub-genre. Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology is both broad in scope yet largely encompasses the idea of what the average sci-fi fan's expectations are for the form. Though Sterling’s agenda is his own, some stories will be immediately recognizable for their mood and voice, while others will require more thought toward determining just how they fit into the sub-genre, if at all. The following is a brief introduction to each.

"The Gernsback Continuum" by William Gib... Read More

The Magicians’ Guild: A simple but engaging story of class conflict

The Magicians’ Guild by Trudi Canavan

The first installment of Trudi Canavan’s THE BLACK MAGICIAN trilogy, The Magicians’ Guild is the story of a young girl, Sonea, who discovers that she possesses magical abilities. As a lower class street girl living in the slums of the imaginary city of Imardin with her aunt and uncle, Sonea’s life has been one of destitution and hatred of the city’s snobbish upper class. Every year, the magicians of Imardin hold a Purge, during which they sweep the streets of Imardin in an attempt to eliminate beggars and vagabonds. Unsurprisingly, the masses of Imardin have never been particularly taken up with the idea, so one day, Sonea, burning with loathing of the Magicians’ Guild, throws a rock at a thaumaturge. Protected by magical shields, the magicians of Imardin never expected to be in ... Read More

Black Sun Rising: Unique worldbuilding and science fantasy

Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman

Black Sun Rising is the first novel in C.S. Friedman’s popular COLDFIRE trilogy. I read Dominion, the prequel novella, a couple of years ago after reading (and loving) several of her science fiction novels. I admire Friedman’s worldbuilding and her writing style.

The COLDFIRE trilogy feels like traditional epic fantasy, but it would best be categorized as science fantasy because it takes place in the far future on Erna, a planet colonized by humans looking for a habitable world. When they got to this world, they discovered that natural laws work differently. Some force, which they call the “Fae,” feeds on human fears and uses those “vibes” (my word) to influence evolution. This means, for example, that creatures that aren’t r... Read More