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World of Trouble: Science fiction for your friends who think SF is stupid

World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters

We all have that friend, family member or co-worker who thinks speculative fiction is stupid. To be fair, they have a lot of ammunition for this short-sighted view; the Star Wars prequels, vampire-boyfriend sagas and numerous homogenized series with trashy covers. Ben H. Winters, however, is the secret defensive weapon in our arsenal, and the LAST POLICEMAN  series is the smart, thinking-person’s SF you can offer as a rebuttal.

World of Trouble is the final book in the trilogy. In The Last Policeman, we met Hank Palace, the titular character. The world is going to be struck by a large asteroid, and all the projections show the results will be the end of life on earth. Bruce Willis is not going to blow it up with a nuclear warhead; there is no technological or scientific way to deflect it. Scientists ... Read More

The Bone Clocks: One of my favorite reads this year

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Fans of David Mitchell (of which I am definitely one) will feel right at home with his newest work, The Bone Clocks. You’ve got your chameleon-like ability to shift voice across a wide variety of genders and ages via multiple POVs, your richly vivid characterization, the literary and at times lyrical passages of internal monologue or description, spot-on dialog, an interconnected-story structure that spans time and space, the erudite use of history, and imaginative yet grittily real extrapolations of future settings and language. Weaving in and out of all this are familiar themes involving reincarnation, mortality, the predatory nature of humanity against both itself and the environment, and the idea of interconnectedness, the latter made more overt via the added pleasure for Mitchell fans of the many references to characters from earlier Mitchell books. Throw in some paranormal event... Read More

Horrible Monday: The Collected Ghost Stories of E.F. Benson

The Collected Ghost Stories of E.F. Benson by E.F. Benson

I had read E.F. Benson's The Horror Horn to start with (a collection of 13 of his best ghost stories), after seeing that it was considered one of the Top 100 Horror Books of all time in Newman & Jones' excellent overview volume. Each of those 13 stories was so good that I just had to have more, and so picked up this collection — The Collected Ghost Stories of E.F. Benson — of every single one of Benson's spooky tales, 54 in all. This collection certainly did not disappoint; I loved every single one of these ghost stories, and was riveted ... Read More

The People Inside by Ray Fawkes

The People Inside by Ray Fawkes

The People Inside by Ray Fawkes is a follow-up to his fairly recent graphic novel One Soul. Ray Fawkes is currently writing a number of titles for DC, and those titles are well-written, but One Soul and The People Inside are absolutely brilliant works of art that attempt to expand the possibilities of sequential art on the printed page. Lately, I've seen a number of advances in sequential art in the area of digital comics; however, I felt as if everything new had already been discovered and tri... Read More

The Invisibles (Vol. 1): Say You Want a Revolution by Grant Morrison

The Invisibles (Vol. 1): Say You Want a Revolution by Grant Morrison

Grant Morrison gained recognition in the United States for revamping the flagging title Animal Man. He's now known also for some of his early, quirky Vertigo titles such as Doom Patrol and The Invisibles. I don't know why it's taken me so long to sit down and start The Invisibles, but I'm glad I did. At the moment, I've read only the first eight issues that comprise volume one of Read More

Horrible Monday: The Compleat Werewolf by Anthony Boucher

The Compleat Werewolf  by Anthony Boucher

The Compleat Werewolf and Other Stories of Fantasy and Science Fiction gathers together 10 short stories and novellas from the pen of Anthony Boucher, all of which originally appeared in various pulp magazines (such as Unknown Worlds, Adventure Magazine, Astounding Science Fiction, Weird Tales and Thrilling Wonder Stories) from 1941-'45. Boucher, whose real name was William Anthony Parker White, was a man of many talents, and during his career, which lasted from the early '40s to the late '50s, he worked as a magazine editor, a book reviewer (for The New York Times and New York Herald Tribune) and an author of science fiction, horror and mystery.

I initially learned of this Compleat Werewolf collection of 196... Read More

Fool’s Errand: Fitz is back

Fool’s Errand by Robin Hobb

“Alone again. It isn’t fair. Truly it isn’t. You’ve the saddest song of any man I’ve ever known.”  ~Starling Birdsong, minstrel to Queen Kettricken

I squealed with delight when I recently opened a box from Brilliance Audio and found a review copy of Fool’s Errand inside. This is an old favorite that, for years, I had planned to re-read. Since Hobb’s new book comes out next week, this seemed like the perfect time to get back into FitzChivalry Farseer’s world.

We first met Fitz back in Assassin’s Apprentice when he was a boy. As bastard son to a Farseer prince, he was brought to court and trained as the king’s assassin. He inherited the Skill, the magic that the Farseer family uses to communicate telepathically, from his father. Unfortunately, he inherited the Wit, the maligned “beast magic,” from his ... Read More

The Magician’s Land: A big and beautiful finish

The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman

The Magician's Land, by Lev Grossman, is a superb finish to what is one of my favorite fantasy series of all time. I read it elated, skin tingling and brain buzzing, savoring every word to make it last longer. When I finished, I wanted to read it again immediately. And yet, I also finished the book feeling a persistent ambivalence about the conclusion Grossman has created for his characters.

In The Magician's Land, Quentin Coldwater, the protagonist, has grown up; he's thirty now, twelve years older than when we first met him in The Magicians. Having been ejected from Fillory, the magical land of his childhood dreams, he is now a junior professor at his old school, Brakebills, and has found his specialty: mending small things. In all ways his li... Read More

The Wraith by Joe Hill

The Wraith by Joe Hill (writer) and Charles Paul Wilson III (artist)

The Wraith is a horror comic book based on Joe Hill's novel NOS4A2, and I can't tell you how much I dislike horror as a general rule. However, this book is absolutely brilliant, and I loved it. I have not read the novel, and probably won't, so you don't need to have read it to appreciate this comic book. I went in as a resistant reader, but since I've learned over the past few years that I do like some horror comics such as Hell... Read More

Fool’s Assassin: The perfect balance of ingredients

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb's FARSEER series well earned its current classic status, and any serious reader of fantasy had to be thrilled to hear that Fitz, one of the genre's most beloved characters, would be returning in a new series. I certainly was. But I was also curious, and, I confess, a bit nervous, about how her evolution in storytelling, especially as displayed in her SOLDIER'S SON and RAIN WILDS series, might play out in a long-delayed return to an old favorite. After all, in those works, I had to admit that said evolution — which I described as Hobb seemingly "exploring just how much plot she needs in her novels to actually have a ‘story,' as if she’s feeling her way to as quiet and minimalist a style (in terms of action, not language) as possible" — had left me thinking she had carried the experiment (if such it was) a bit too far for my liking. So what would ... Read More

Between the Gears by Natalie Nourigat

Between the Gears by Natalie Nourigat

I feel like I lucked out finding Between the Gears by Natalie Nourigat: I generally don't find myself looking for non-fiction sequential art, though I've certainly read enough to have favorites. What piqued my interest was a description of the book that let me know it's a year-long autobiographical comic of her senior year at the University of Oregon in 2010. Since I earned my PhD in English Literature from the U of O in 2000, I was extremely interested in seeing Eugene, Oregon through her eyes. However, if the book had been merely of personal interest, I wouldn't bother to write a review. I think it's a fascinating work that will be of interest to anyone who likes reflective coming-o... Read More

Letter 44: Escape Velocity by Charles Soule & Alberto J. Alburquesque

Letter 44 (vol one): Escape Velocity by Charles Soule and Alberto J. Alburquesque

I've just found a real gem in my stack of books to review: Letter 44: Escape Velocity by Charles Soule is a must-read for science-fiction fans. Saga by Vaughan is the first current comic title I usually recommend to fans of SF. Luckily, I now have another current title to recommend right along with Saga. Letter 44: Escape Velocity has equally compelling character development and perhaps even ... Read More

The Left Hand of Darkness: An important thought experiment

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

Given science fiction’s near infinite palette of available colors, it was bound to happen one day. Thankfully, Ursula Le Guin was the one. The idea: androgynous humans. Winner of several awards, the social significance of science fiction has never had a stronger proponent than The Left Hand of Darkness, the meaning of gender never so relevant to mankind.

Genly Ai is an envoy sent to the planet Gethen to convince the nation of Karrhide to join Earth’s Ekumen (a politically neutral organization supporting the dissemination of knowledge, culture, and commerce). What he encounters are the native Gethens, an androgynous people who go into kemmer once a month, physically adapting to the features of any mate they encounter during that time. Mixed up in the local politics is Estraven, a Gethen Genly meets as part of his inter-planetary task, and the two sub... Read More

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew

The more I read by Gene Luen Yang, the more I am impressed. Like many people, I first learned of his work through American Born Chinese; however, I liked The Eternal Smile with Derek Kirk Kim just as much if not more. I also enjoyed his Level Up with Thien Pham. This newest work, The Shadow Hero, is another brilliant graphic novel, and Sonny Liew's art is perfect for telling the st... Read More

Eifelheim: An elegant First Contact story

Eifelheim by Michael Flynn

Eifelheim is an interesting take on the First Contact story. This one takes place in the Middle Ages, as an alien ship crash lands in the Black Forest of Germany near the small village of Oberhochwald. Tied in to this tale of the past is one that takes place in the present as two researchers (and lovers) try to solve the mystery of the disappearance of the village of Eifelheim (once called Oberhochwald) from recorded history and the implications this may have on their separate fields of study.

I found the tale in the past to be the more compelling of the two, though they do work well together as a whole. Flynn does an excellent job of bringing to life a realistic Middle Ages that doesn't look sneeringly down on the "superstitious savages" of that age. All of the characters we meet in Oberhochwald are fully developed people, none of whom are simply "good" or "bad." In many ways it is actually they, and ... Read More

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