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The Case Against Satan: An infernally fine piece of work

The Case Against Satan by Ray Russell

Up until a few years ago, the name "Ray Russell" was only familiar to me by dint of his work as a screenwriter on such marvelous horror/sci-fi films as Mr. Sardonicus (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Zotz! (also from 1962) and X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes (1963). It wasn't until I noticed a highly complimentary review of his 1962 novel The Case Against Satan, in Jones & Newman's excellent overview volume Horror: Another 100 Best Books, that I even knew he was an author at all, but I've since run across a quote from a guy named Stephen King, calling Russell's original novella Sardonicus "perhaps the finest example of the modern gothic ever written"! I'd been thus trying to lay my hands on ... Read More

Babel-17: A dazzling new-wave SF space opera from the 1960s

Reposting to include Kat's review of the new audio version.

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany

Babel-17 won the 1966 Nebula award for best novel, tying with Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon. Samuel Delany’s space opera novel is dated in many ways, but still holds up.

In the future, humans have colonized many star systems. Currently, the Alliance is engaged in a war with the Invaders, who, despite the name, are also human. The Alliance has intercepted many dispatches in a code they can’t break. They’ve labeled it Babel-17. Desperate, they turn to the inter-galactically renowned poet Rydra Wong to help them decipher it.

Wong is in her late twenties, a linguistic, semantic and telepathic genius, a starship captain, and so compelling that the general who meets with her falls in love with her almost instantly. There is more than a bit of fan... Read More

Curse of the Bane: Another scary adventure

Curse of the Bane (The Spook’s Curse in the UK) by Joseph Delaney

Curse of the Bane (2005) is the second book in Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE series. (The series is confusingly called THE WARDSTONE CHRONICLES in the UK and this book is titled The Spook’s Curse there.) The first book, Revenge of the Witch (The Spook’s Apprentice in the UK) was terrifying and though I really enjoyed it, I warned that it might be too scary for many kids in the target age range of 9-12.

Tom Ward is the thirteen year old apprentice of the regional Spook. Together they travel around the county banishing witches, ... Read More

Ubik: Use only as directed

Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

Warning: Use only as directed. And with caution.

Written in 1969, Ubik is one of Philip K. Dick’s most popular science fiction novels. It’s set in a future 1992 where some humans have develop psi and anti-psi powers which they are willing to hire out to individuals or companies who want to spy (or block spying) on others. Also in this alternate 1992, if you’ve got the money, you can put your beloved recently-deceased relatives into “coldpac” where they can be stored in half-life and you can visit with them for years after their death.

As Ubik begins, Glen Runciter, the head of one of New York City’s top anti-psi organizations, discovers that all the operatives of the top psi organization (whose telepathic fields they like to keep track of) h... Read More

The Best of Nancy Kress: A good storyteller who is fearless about wondering

The Best of Nancy Kress by Nancy Kress

Reading Nancy Kress’s work is a disconcerting experience for me. I love her ideas; there is no one quite like her when it comes to integrating a Big Idea into a believable world. On the other hand, I often don’t understand her characters’ motivations and frequently find them unengaging. Subterranean Press’s new story collection, The Best of Nancy Kress — edited by Kress herself — provides some insight into her ideas and her storytelling, and is an educational, entertaining read.

There are twenty-one stories in the book, each with a brief afterword by Kress (one afterword is so brief that it’s just a set of initials). Kress discusses each story’s history, and many of these are award winners; she also includes a few that are personal favorites or display writing a... Read More

Six of Crows: An exciting fantasy heist

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo, best known for her GRISHA young adult magical fantasy trilogy, explores a different corner of the Grisha world in her new young adult novel, Six of Crows. In the city of Ketterdam, an analog for Amsterdam, criminal gangs control the waterfront, and the surrounding area is a den of iniquity where everything can be bought and sold, including people. One of the gangs, appropriately called the Dregs, is led by 17 year old Kaz Brekker, nicknamed “Dirtyhands” because of his willingness to stoop to any level to maintain and grow his power and control. His young crew has been gaining in power and influence during the few years he’s been in charge of it.

One day a wealthy merchant abducts Kaz and tells him an incredible story: a scientist, who is being held in an impenetrable fo... Read More

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms: Three GRRM novellas

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin

“Are there no true knights among you?”

Dunk, a hedge knight, is burying his former master, Ser Arlan of Pennytree, in the soft spring ground. He has little, besides a sword and a horse. Though he is neither well trained nor especially well educated, Dunk is an unusually large man and he has a good heart. Looking at his former master, buried anonymously in a random hillside, Dunk decides to risk it all at the tourney in Ashford. If he fights well, perhaps some lord will take Dunk into his service and offer him a home in a castle.

Along the way to Ashford, Dunk meets Egg, a skinny bald kid, at an inn. Egg is bright, though a bit cheeky amongst his elders. Dunk, who grew up a child scrounging for food in Flee Bottom before Ser Arlan took him in, looks at Egg and sees his own story. He agrees to take Egg on as his squire, though he often reflects that the... Read More

Beatrice: A love… pentangle

Beatrice by H. Rider Haggard

Editor's note: This book, which is in the public domain, is available free in Kindle format.

Beatrice was first published in 1890, and was H. Rider Haggard's 10th novel, out of 58 titles. Unlike so many of his other books, Beatrice is one that features almost no action scenes whatsoever; no lost races, no adventure, no battles, no supernatural elements. (My editors here at FanLit are thus indulging me once again by allowing me to submit a review of a book by my favorite author, despite the fact that this book has little in the way of fantasy content.) What it IS, is a beautifully written romance novel; indeed, is is one of Haggard's most emotional works. It tells the story of the ill-fated love affair between Beatri... Read More

Slade House: Come on in!

Slade House by David Mitchell

(Reposting to include Bill's review. Bill gives Slade House 4.5 stars.)

I may have to give up my long-held identity as someone who doesn’t enjoy reading horror, because I have really enjoyed some horror novels lately. David Mitchell’s latest, Slade House, is a sort of haunted house-slash-mystery story told over several decades, in several different voices, and it was delightful.

The book begins with a young boy, Nathan, who visits a house down narrow, twisting Slade Alley with his mother. The gate is set in the wall of the alley, and when he enters, he has the sense of entering a lovely, secret paradise of a place. He and his mother are fed and he meets another child, Jonah, a playmate and new friend for him. Their game of Fox and Hounds turns bizarre and ... Read More

Dragon Coast: Family, friendships and conflicts converge in a satisfying conclusion

Dragon Coast by Greg Van Eekhout

Daniel Blackland, the most powerful osteomancer in the Southern Kingdom, will go to any length to rescue his adopted son, Sam. Sam’s essence is inhabiting a huge dragon, a Pacific firedrake that is wreaking fiery devastation on huge swathes of Los Angeles. To extract Sam’s essence, Daniel needs an artifact, and he and his friend Moth will attempt a high-risk impersonation in the warlike Northern Kingdom next door.

Gabriel Argent is the Water Mage of the Southern Kingdom. He, along with his human “hound” Max, reluctantly agree to help Daniel. Gabriel is methodical, a bureaucrat at heart, and he has a different plan for the firedrake, one based on the calculus of the greatest good for the greatest number... by Gabriel’s reckoning, anyway.

Sam, trapped inside a ravening dragon, tries to control it, to steer it from an imaginary “cockpit” made of bone, but he’s only parti... Read More

Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus

Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card

Scenario: If you knew there was a bomb in a building, would you feel obliged to yell as loudly as possible to warn other people? The bomb explodes and the injuries are high and the death toll unimaginable. But let’s then suppose you have an opportunity to go back in time and prevent the bomb from ever being planted in the first place. Take things one step further... let's say that you stop the bomber before he even places his bomb... what else might change? Now you're dealing with what's known as 'the butterfly effect' — if a butterfly flaps its wings in China, can it change the weather on the other side of the world?

Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus takes this concept one step further by asking: if you could change the course of one man's life, could you change the course of the entire world? What if that one man h... Read More

Radio Free Albemuth: Divine messages via a pink laser from space

Radio Free Albemuth by Philip K Dick

Radio Free Albemuth was written in 1976 but only published posthumously in 1985. Even for Philip K Dick, this is a bizarre and partly deranged book. It’s a deeply personal autobiographical attempt for him to make sense of a series of bizarre religious experiences he collectively referred to as “2-3-74”. So if you are only a casual fan of PKD’s books or movies, this is probably not for you. However, if you love his novels and know something of his troubled life, it will provide an absolutely fascinating picture of a man struggling to extract meaning from it all, using every resource his powerful, wide-ranging and increasingly unstable mind can muster. It may be a confounding mess for many, but what a gloriously courageous attempt he makes. For me this book and his later complete rewrite VALI... Read More

The Collected Works of Philip K. Dick: 11 Science Fiction Stories

The Collected Works of Philip K. Dick: 11 Science Fiction Stories by Philip K Dick

During his lifetime, Philip K Dick published 44 novels, 121 short stories, and 14 short story collections. If you are interested in getting his short stories, you can find many of his earliest stories available in various combinations on Kindle for $0.99 or $1.99 since they are public domain now. For more dedicated fans, you can get the five-volume series The Collected Short Stories of Philip K Dick, which contains over 100 of his short stories (over 2,000 pages) from throughout his career. But what if you want audio versions?

If you search for his short stories on audio, there’s surprisingly little. Considering how cheap some of the e-book collections are, you’d expect much more, but the best overall deal I could find was the $1.99 Collected Works of Philip K... Read More

The Damnation Game: Beats with an eloquently bloody heart

The Damnation Game by Clive Barker

Clive Barkers first full-length novel is magnificent. It’s dark, intense and mostly unrelenting in its steady construction of supernatural horror. While full of gut wrenching visuals – resulting in several nights of me restlessly attempting to fall asleep — under a skin of pure horror, this novel beats with an eloquently bloody heart.

Barker’s skills shone through early in his career as The Damnation Game was a Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Best First Novel (1987), World Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Novel (1986), and British Book Award Nominee (1988).
Hell is reimagined by each generation. Its terrain is surveyed for absurdities and remade and, if necessary, reinvented to suit the current climate of atrocity; its architecture is redesigned to a... Read More

The Simulacra: Dick keeps his multiple story lines percolating

The Simulacra by Philip K. Dick

Fueled by prescription amphetamines, and in a burst of creative effort rarely seen before or since in the sci-fi field, cult author Philip K. Dick, in the period 1963 - ‘64, wrote no less than six full-length novels. His 13th since 1955, The Simulacra, was originally released as an Ace paperback in 1964 with a cover price of 40 cents. The book, written in Dick's best middle-period style, gives us a pretty whacky look at life in the mid-21st century. Scottish critic David Pringle, in his Ultimate Guide to Science Fiction, aptly describes the work as "an overpopulated novel which flies off wildly in too many directions," and indeed, readers may need a flowchart to keep track with this one. According to my careful count, the book features no less than 56 named characters (no... Read More

How the Marquis Got His Coat Back: A delightful return to London Below

How the Marquis Got His Coat Back by Neil Gaiman

Fans of Neverwhere, rejoice. The Marquis of Carabas has returned and is as slippery and smooth-talking as ever. Neil Gaiman takes readers into London Below once more as the Marquis embarks upon an adventure to retrieve his stolen coat. Despite being much smaller in scope and scale than Neverwhere, it is impossible not to be immersed in Gaiman’s fantastical world.

The Marquis has lost his coat. Or, more specifically, it has been stolen. His first port of call is the floating market, at which he is directed towards the Mushroom people. One such Mushroom person agrees to tell the Marquis where his coat is, on the condition that he deliver a love note to his intended lover, Drusilla of Ravens Court. This is all whilst the Mushroom pers... Read More

Doomsday Book: Historically robust time travel with deeply satisfying characters

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Although it took a good two-thirds of the novel for me to decide, I've come to the conclusion that I really enjoyed this multiple award-winning book by Connie Willis. At its core, Doomsday Book is sci-fi time travel, but it’s got depth and intelligence, and leaves little wonder that it won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards for Best Novel (in 1992 and ’93, respectively), as well as the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 1993, and a nomination for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature (also in 1993).

Doomsday Book follows two parallel stories separated by 500 years. In the 21st century, history professor James Dunworthy finds himself caught amidst an epidemic, trapped in a quarantine and unable to confirm the safety of his mos... Read More

Memories of the Space Age: Autopsy of a lost dream

Memories of the Space Age by J.G. Ballard

Memories of the Space Age (1988) is a limited edition hardcover published by small press Arkham House, with a gorgeous cover of Max Ernst’s ‘Europe After the Rain’ that captures the hallucinatory, decayed imagery of J.G. Ballard’s collection. It contains eight stories written between 1962 and 1985, thematically linked around rotting launch gantries at Cape Canaveral, the failure of the US space program, dead astronauts eternally orbiting in space, deserted hotels lining the Florida coast, and the lonely, disturbed individuals who linger at the fringes of this lost dream of the Space Age. The stories have so much overlap that some readers will find them very repetitive, and that is undeniable. Yet they do lure the reader into Ballard’s hypnotic world in a way few other writers do. ... Read More

The Shining Girls: Scary in all the right ways

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

A serial killer is at a serious advantage when they can jump through time at will, as Harper Curtis of Lauren Beukes The Shining Girls can. This does not bode well for Kirby Mazrachi, intended victim of said serial killer who should’ve died after Harper sliced open her stomach and slit her throat. But Kirby miraculously survived the attack and is determined to find the man that derailed her life.

The problems with trying to find a time-travelling serial killer, however, are obvious. Harper Curtis jumps between 1929 and 1993, killing his ‘shining girls.’ Quite why they shine is never explicitly explained, but they all have the potential to change the world in some way. Harper is able to time travel through the House (note the capital H), an entity which is, again, left so... Read More

On the Origin of Superheroes: Gods, superheroes, and super-men through history

On the Origin of Superheroes: From the Big Bang to Action Comics No. 1. by Chris Gavaler

When most people discuss the origin of the superhero, they typically start with Action Comics 1 and the introduction of Superman. Some might go back a few years to characters like Doc Savage, quickly naming a few pulp heroes along with Doc, but then they too dive almost immediately into that same issue with Superman lifting the car. Where most people begin, however, is where Chris Gaveler ends in his in-depth look at the long road that led to Action Comics 1 and the universe it spawned. And a long road it is indeed in Gaveler's telling, even if it doesn't quite start at the Big Bang as the subtitle to On the Origin of Superheroes hints. Gavaler's definition of superhero is sometimes a bit broad and all-encompassing for me, and at times he generalizes past my own comfort point, but this is an informative and wide-ra... Read More

Carter & Lovecraft: A terrific mystery enveloped in the cosmic weird of Lovecraft

Carter & Lovecraft by Jonathan L. Howard

Detectives Dan Carter and Charlie Hammond have finally tracked down and cornered the perverse serial killer known as The Child-Catcher. Found in his own home, the detectives move in, focused on a speedy capture, before the Child-Catcher performs his bizarre version of open-brain surgery. Charlie takes the lead, turns up a flight of stairs and Carter hears a shot ring out. He follows, and sees the Child-Catcher sitting against a wall, a pool of blood in his lap, and a seemingly serene smile on his lips. “Suicide by cop.” On the wall: a string-connected ‘psycho wall.’

Further down the hall, Carter’s partner is:
crying and laughing, Charlie put his S&W Model 5946 between his teeth, squeezed the trigger, and excused himself from life.
Jonathan L. Howard is no stranger to the authorial... Read More

The Man Who Japed: PKD shines in his third novel

We're re-running this post to include Sandy's recent review.

The Man Who Japed by Philip K. Dick

Cult sci-fi author Philip K. Dick's third novel, The Man Who Japed, was originally published in one of those cute little "Ace doubles" (D-193, for all you collectors out there), back to back with E.C. Tubb's The Space-Born, in 1956, and with a cover price of a whopping 35 cents. (Ed Emshwiller's cover for The Man Who Japed was his first of many for these beloved double-deckers.) As in Dick's previous novel, The World Jones Made (1955), the story takes place on an Earth following a nuclear Armageddon that has considerably changed mankind's lot. In The Man Who Japed, by the year 2114, a... Read More

The Fifth Season: Displays Jemisin’s stunning imagination

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 characters do.

On this unstable continent, people called ... Read More

Glory Road: Sandy loves it, Kat doesn’t

Glory Road by Robert A. Heinlein

So what does an author do after writing one of the most beloved science fiction novels of all time and in the process picking up his third out of an eventual four Hugo awards? That was precisely the conundrum that future sci-fi Grand Master Robert A. Heinlein faced in 1962, after winning the Hugo for Stranger in a Strange Land, and he responded to the problem by switching gears a bit. His follow-up novel, Glory Road, was not precisely Heinlein's first fantasy piece — his 1959 novella The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag had contained a large dollop of very strange fantasy mixed in with its central mystery — but, as far as I can tell, it was his earliest full-length creation in the fantasy vein; one that was... Read More

The Terminal Beach: The best of Ballard’s early stories

The Terminal Beach by J.G. Ballard

J.G. Ballard is best known for his autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun (1984), along with his early novels like The Drowned World (1962), The Crystal World (1964), The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), Crash (1973), Concrete Island (1974), and High-Rise (1975). But many consider his best work to be his huge catalog of short stories, many of which were pivotal in the New Wave SF movement in the late 60s/early 70s. Ballard’s style may have been suited to the short form, as it plays to his strengths (hallucinatory imagery, bizarre concepts, powerful descriptions) and avoid his weaknesses (lack of empathetic characters, weak plots, unrealistic mot... Read More