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Lock In: Insightful social commentary

Lock In by John Scalzi

So because I picked up my copy of John Scalzi’s Lock In late, doing so based on Terry’s Sunday Status comment, I wasn’t able to take part in the review party Kat, Terry, and Marion threw (at least, my ego and I are going with that story instead of the “they didn’t invite me” one). Which might have turned out to be a good thing, as I might have been the annoying guy harshing everyone’s buzz. Not that I didn’t enjoy most of Lock In, but I seem to have enjoyed it somewhat less than the 4.5/5 ratings given it by those three.

I thought the premise was fantastic — several decades ago, a flu-like pandemic (Haden’s Syndrome) took several million people and “locked” them into their bodies... Read More

Blackdog: Stand-alone epic fantasy

Blackdog by K.V. Johansen

While religion is often found in epic fantasy, rarely is it the main focus of a novel, as it is in Blackdog. It’s even more rare to find an epic fantasy that is a stand-alone rather than part of a long series or trilogy. While the fact that Blackdog is a stand-alone might turn some epic fantasy fans off, it is rather refreshing to read a fantasy on an epic scale that is contained within one book and has a definite beginning, middle and ending.

K.V. Johansen’s world building reminds me a bit of Steven Erikson’s MALAZAN series. The world is large, intricate and sprawls into lands that are just hinted at. It has a rich history which will keep the reader interested and yearning to learn more. Furthermore, the gods are steeped in that rich history and add an int... Read More

Ancillary Sword: Leckie hits a solid home run with Book Two

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

(This review contains spoilers of Book One, Ancillary Justice.)

In Ancillary Justice, Leckie’s award-sweeping 2013 novel, we met Breq. Breq was a soldier, but before she was a soldier, she had been a ship, the Justice of Toren. Specifically, Breq was an ancillary, a human body whose personality has been erased, so that she could be a node of awareness for the ship’s AI. Justice of Toren comprised the ship itself and 2,000 human ancillaries in a distributed network. When Justice of Toren was destroyed in an act of treachery, only one ancillary, who was offline, survived: Breq. Ancillary Sword, which continues Breq’s adventures, hits a solid home run.

Breq’s search for vengeance in Ancillary Justice led her to the ruler of the vast, millennia-old Radch... Read More

Imperfect Sword: A wonderful action-packed installment

Imperfect Sword by Jack Campbell

After the last book in Jack Campbell’s THE LOST STARS series, I was really almost dreading Imperfect Sword. I felt like Campbell had lost touch with the meaning of Military Science Fiction and was wandering in the land of Science Fiction Romance. Well, fortunately I have been rebuked; with Imperfect Sword, Campbell delivers a wonderful action-packed installment and restores my belief in him as an author who knows when to blow something up with a plasma cannon or take someone down with a sharp knife in the dark. 

General Drakon and President Iceni have been up to their necks in intrigue since they broke with the Syndicate Worlds. Through a very, very fortunate series of interactions with Admiral Jack Geary, the hero of the LOST FLEET series, they have avoided being destroyed by the Enig... Read More

Inversions: A CULTURE novel that isn’t a CULTURE novel

Inversions by Iain M. Banks

Like ExcessionUse of Weapons, and The Player of Games, Iain M. Banks' 1998 Inversions continues to prove that the reader should expect the unexpected because, with Inversions, Banks explicitly aimed to write “a CULTURE novel that wasn’t a CULTURE novel.” It is likely to be categorized as fantasy by someone who knows nothing of the Culture — there is a medieval feel to the royalty, court intrigue, sword fights, beautiful damsels, boys growing up to become men, and a few “supernatural” events that bend the story beyond realism. However, astute readers will recognize something deeper happening beneath the deceptively simple façade and realize that Inversions is something more. That something more is not only the Cu... Read More

The Shotgun Arcana: Gory but Fun

The Shotgun Arcana by R.S. Belcher

To get a sense of R.S. Belcher's world of The Shotgun Arcana, his follow-up to The Six-Gun Tarot, one need only eavesdrop on the conversation of the seen-it-all residents of Golgotha, Nevada as they watch a wagon wheel away with some mysterious contents:
"Hey, Mutt, what is it this time . . . Another one of them boogeymen? Those black-eyed children? Like the ones that up and took the Summerton family and only left their shadows behind? . . . "

The crowd began to mutter among themselves.

"Them bat-people again, I bet ya . . . "

"Hope the buildings ain't coming alive like last June again . . . "

"Long as it ain't those worm things. I still can't swallow pert near nothing without wanting to upchuck."
That's life in a nutshell (a very tip-of-the-iceberg nut... Read More

The Van Rijn Method: Golden Age SF with a more literary style

The Van Rijn Method by Poul Anderson

Poul Anderson was a prolific author in fantasy, science fiction and historical fiction. A couple of years ago I read one of his last novels, Mother of Kings, a historical work based on the life of the tenth century Norse queen Gunnhild. The prose requires a bit of patience on the reader’s part but both the subject and style of that book appealed to me. In science fiction Anderson is probably best known for his work in the long running Technic civilization setting. Between 1951 and 1985 Anderson wrote countless novels and stories in this universe. Baen has collected these in seven omnibus editions with The Van Rijn Method being the first.

Although the Technic civilization stories share the same setting, there is no overarching story; all the works in this volume can be read independently. The editor, Hank Davies, has chosen to order the stori... Read More

Infinite Crisis and the “Old” 52 (Part 3): Day of Vengeance by Bill Willingham

Infinite Crisis and the "Old" 52 (Part 3): Day of Vengeance by Bill Willingham

In this third review, I will cover the rest of the issues included in the Day of Vengeance trade paperback. This story is written by Bill Willingham, well-known for Fables, his excellent Vertigo series at DC. These issues are also available on Comixology as Day of Vengeance Issues #1-6. However, as confusing as this sounds, do not read the Day of Vengeance: Infinite Crisis Special, which is includ... Read More

Black Halo: Sam Sykes is a versatile author

Black Halo by Sam Sykes

In his first book, Tome of the Undergates, Sam Sykes proved he was a versatile author. He wrote some intense, realistic battles and mixed them with some of the most peaceful, beautiful passages I’ve seen in such a violent book. Interspersed with all of this was some fantastic humor that I’ve come to associate with Sykes.

In Black Halo, he takes everything he proved himself capable of in Tome of the Undergates and perfects it. The humor is more biting and the plot is paced perfectly. The reader will notice a lot of growth in the author between the first and second books of this series, and that’s really saying something, considering how impressive a debut Tome of the Undergates was.

Perhaps most impressively is how Sykes has so carefully decided to expand his world. Tome of... Read More

Horrible Monday: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

I’ve avoided some of Stephen King’s more recent works, like Cell and Under the Dome, because they didn’t look like they would be my thing. Doctor Sleep was a different matter. I didn’t think it was perfect, but it had a lot of the things I look for in a King novel.

In 1977, King published The Shining, a book about an evil hotel in Colorado, and the family it victimized during a hard winter. The father in that family died in the hotel – or, one might say, with the hotel. His wife and son, Danny, escaped alive, in part because of Danny’s gift, or “shining.”

Danny is grown up now, trying to make his way in the world. His gift or “shine” is nearly dormant. It stil... Read More

The Santaroga Barrier: Frank Herbert’s most underrated novel

The Santaroga Barrier by Frank Herbert

A couple of years back Tor reissued four of Frank Herbert's novels in absurdly cheap paperback format. For some of these titles it had been quite a while since they'd been in print and despite a poor quality of the paperbacks I snapped them up as soon as they were published. Thankfully Tor realized its mistake and reissued another four novels in a somewhat more durable format a while later. These first four reissues contained what I consider Herbert's best novel (The Dosadi Experiment) as well as the worst (The Green Brain). All four are quite different from his famous DUNE novels but in quite a few you can see him returning to themes he used in DUNE. The Santaroga Barrier is one of his more interesting novels. A deceptively simple story, really.

Psychologist Gilbert Dasein is assig... Read More

Locke and Key (Vol. 2): Head Games by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Locke and Key (Vol. 2): Head Games by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

A solid and scary second section to this first-class horror story.

Warning; may contain spoilers of Volume One; Welcome to Lovecraft

After everything the Locke family went through in Volume One, Welcome to Lovecraft, they need a break. Unfortunately, in Volume Two of this powerful graphic horror novel, they aren’t going to get one.

Head Games starts with an elderly teacher at Lovecraft A... Read More

World of Trouble: A beautiful and appropriate ending

World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters

World of Trouble
is the quiet, inevitable conclusion to Ben H. Winters’ moving end-of-the-world trilogy. Here, the cause is that old stand-by — an extinction-level asteroid about to crash into the Earth. The three novels begin months before the apocalypse (The Last Policeman), weeks (Countdown City), and now in World of Trouble it’s just a matter of days. Hank Palace, that “last policeman” used as the title of book one, remains one of the good guys in the end times, committed to doing what is right, to what is “supposed” to be done. In earlier books, that meant solving crimes despite the apparent reality that none of it matters in the face of apocalypse. Though of course, the fact that it does matter to h... Read More

Crown of Vengeance: Enjoyable high fantasy

Crown of Vengeance by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

I finished listening to the audio version of Crown of Vengeance, the first in Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory’s DRAGON PROPHECY series. It tells the story of Vielissar Farcarinon, an Elvish mage who discovers when she is twelve that her parents were killed and her ancestral house destroyed by the people who fostered her, House Caerthalion. She nurses her rage and quest for vengeance as she learns to channel the Light. However, she soon finds out that she is the Child of the Prophecy, a foretold hero who will both save the world from the demonic Endarkened and shake Elvish culture and tradition to its very foundation.

So, basically, it’s your typical high fantasy. And I am pleased to say that I enjoyed every moment of this book.

Lackey a... Read More

Dirty Magic: An entertaining set-up novel

Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells

Dirty Magic tells the story of Kate Prospero, a woman with plenty of baggage to lug around as she struggles through life taking care of her teenaged brother and barely making ends meet. Slowly Wells reveals the fictional (somewhat superheroish) city of Babylon, and as Kate is fleshed out, her history (much of which remains a mystery) is also deliciously divulged to readers. In fact, it’s probably the pacing in regards to world building and character development that really makes Dirty Magic shine. Things aren’t revealed all at once, or even all in this novel. Instead, the foundation is set and enough questions are answered that will satisfy readers, but readers will have to work for those answers, which makes them so much sweeter.

Dirty Magic is an interesting mix of police procedural and personal drama. Usually I sort of tu... Read More

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