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Red Seas Under Red Skies: You had me at pirates

Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

This review contains spoilers for the first book, The Lies of Locke Lamora.

In Red Seas Under Red Skies, Scott Lynch revisits the lives of our favourite gentlemen and bastards, Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen, some two years after the first book left them destitute and heartbroken. Locke and Jean are on track for the biggest score of their career. They are going to become incredibly wealthy. They are going to die in some far off place as comfortable and rich men. They are going to make it big — that’s the plan, anyway. Having read the first book in THE GENTLEMAN BASTARD series it was no surprise that, once again, things didn’t go to plan for the Gentleman Bastards.

You aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, ... Read More

The Sparrow: A deep space exploration of new worlds and the meaning of religion

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. ~Matthew 10:29

I thoroughly enjoyed this expansive story of space travel and first contact. The Sparrow (1996), a multiple award-winning novel from Mary Doria Russell and the first book in THE SPARROW duology, is wonderfully deep in its exploration of culture clash and how individual experiences, both spiritual and physical, shape those interactions. Russell is at her best in bringing her characters to life and deftly creating three dimensional imagery that are at once understandable, real, and relatable.

The story revolves around a Jesuit priest, Sandoz, who returns from a Mission to a far planet, alone, barely alive, and deeply changed from the man that left. Russell bounces back and forth between the 'current' Sandoz, and the back-story lea... Read More

Station Eleven: A literary post-apocalyptic novel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

When most people think of post-apocalyptic stories, they imagine big clunky action plots, zombies and barren wastelands. Maybe a ripped action hero in the calibre of Will Smith. That’s why Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven came as such a surprise. It is complex, poetic, beautifully imagined and intricately plotted.

The novel opens with a death, but not one caused by the flu pandemic that is about to wipe out 99% of humanity. Arthur Leander is performing King Lear on stage when he has a heart attack. Arthur’s final performance is the event that ties together the lives of the cast of characters in the wake of the pandemic. First there is Jeevan, one of the more memorable side characters, a paramedic in training who is in the audience at the theatre. On stage is Kirsten Raymonde, an eight year old actress with a minor part in the pl... Read More

Sunset Mantle: Great things do come in small packages

Sunset Mantle by Alter S. Reiss

One of the discoveries I made this year about my reading preferences was that I really enjoy shorter reads. It may have been because the behemoth volumes typical of fantasy series made me sceptical that you could, gasp, actually tell a good story that would leave me satisfied in fewer pages, but I am glad now that I am actively looking for stories that I would have otherwise neglected to take into consideration. Alter S. ReissSunset Mantle is one of those stories which I would have missed were I to only read doorstoppers, and it reinforces my love for shorter works because Sunset Mantle is a fantastic book.

Cete is a veteran with decades of experience in the art of warmaking. Pragmatic and honest to a fault, he was exiled from his home for having slain his leader after he was taken by the madding, a sort of war lust that clouds... Read More

Illyria: A short story, a tiny bit of magic, a big impact

Illyria by Elizabeth Hand

It hardly feels right to class Elizabeth Hand’s Illyria as fantasy, and yet it won the World Fantasy Award for best novella in 2008, and who am I to argue? There are only a few very short scenes of a magical character spaced throughout this story and they are subtle, unexplained and un-commented upon. These moments linger in the reader’s mind, who is free to draw their own conclusions and find their own meaning. And yet despite the essentially non-magical nature of this story, Hand has managed to elevate the simple love of two young people to an enchanted status.

Maddy Tierney is the youngest daughter of a sprawling New York family. Her neighbours are her aunts and uncles and their many children, her life the rough and tumble that comes of having boisterous and numerous relations. Bu... Read More

The Fifth Season: Fear in a handful of ash

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Sometimes I’d rather write a review for a book I didn’t like than for a book that I loved. It’s often easier to enumerate a novel or short story’s flaws, or authorial missteps, and to clearly and concisely discuss why it didn’t resonate with me. But when I first read The Fifth Season, I was stunned. Flabbergasted. Somehow, N.K. Jemisin wrote an extraordinary fantasy novel which has tremendous wide-spread appeal while matching precisely with my particular interests, and she doesn’t know me from Eve. I didn’t realize how badly I wanted a novel like this to be written until I read it, and corralling my rambling, wide-eyed enthusiasm into coherent thoughts has been more than a little difficult. My apologies.
When we say ‘the world has ended,’ it’s usually a lie, because Read More

2001: A Space Odyssey: The perfect collaboration between book and film

2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke actually collaborated with Stanley Kubrick to produce the novel version of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) in order to provide the basis for brilliant Stanley Kubrick film of the same name. So although the book can be considered the original work, the filmmaker also had a role in its creation, and Clarke also rewrote parts of the book to fit the screenplay as that took shape.

Readers and viewers will forever enjoy debating whether a film or novel version is better, with no final answer. Famous examples include The Lord of the Rings, A Clockwork Orange, Read More

Finder: Volume One by Carla Speed McNeil

Finder: Volume One by Carla Speed McNeil

Even though your to-read stack of books is overflowing, even though your Amazon wish list is daunting, and even though you are starting to worry about running across another review of a book you’ve just got to read, I’m afraid you’ve found one more not merely to add to the list, but to put on the top of the stack of books—if you can resist the urge to buy the book immediately on Comixology, which isn’t a bad idea since it’s great to read with the guided view technology. The book is Finder by Carla Speed McNeil, and fans of intelligent independent comics have known about Finder and McNeil for years. They told me, as I wi... Read More

Bridge of Birds: The most fun you’ll have all year

Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart

Welcome to a “story of ancient China that never was”. Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds (1985) is a real romp of frenetic pace and fairy-tale style mingled with the mythology and legends of ancient China. It's as bonkers and as brilliant as they come.

The story centres on a simple but warm-hearted peasant boy, nicknamed Number 10 Ox for his great strength and the order of his birth. Upon learning that all of the children in his village have been struck down by a terrible disease he sets out to Peking seeking a wise man. Down a grimy back street he stumbles upon the only wise-man he can afford, a cantankerous old trickster, with “a slight flaw in his characternamed Li Kao. Together they set off to find the “root of power that will save the children. What ensues is a quest that takes the pair across the breadth of China, fro... Read More

The Left Hand of Darkness: An important thought experiment

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), part of THE HAINISH CYCLE, won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best SF Novel, and is well known as one of the first books in the genre to intelligently explore the nature of gender and identity. Ursula K. LeGuin is a highly respected writer known for her anthropological and humanistic approach to SF, and her presence has attracted many mainstream readers and forced literary critics to take the genre more seriously. For that alone we owe her a great debt, and she has also written a series of critical essays entitled The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction (1979). Her other masterpieces include The Dispossessed (1974), which won the... Read More

Dune: The greatest SF novel of all time, never to be matched by later sequels

Dune by Frank Herbert

What more can be said about Frank Herbert’s 1965 masterpiece? This massive epic of political intrigue, messianic heroes, vile villains, invincible desert fighters, telepathic witches, sandworms and spice, and guild pilots who fold space, has a relentless action-packed narrative that still has ample room for beautiful descriptive passages and copious philosophizing on the mythology of the messiah/savior. In short, Dune is a perfect SF novel that both entertains and engages the mind, a book frequently cited as the greatest single work of imagination produced in the genre, rivaled only by J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

And yet the book had a troubled birth, being rejected by over twenty publishers before being accepted by Chilton Books, better known for publi... Read More

The Traitor Baru Cormorant: One of my new all-time favorites

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

(Foreword: actual rating: 5.5/5 stars. Do not read Dickinson’s short story of the same title; it’s a spoiler for the novel’s ending. Consider yourself forewarned. Also, please see my interview with Seth Dickinson which I'll be posting later today. It will include a giveaway of The Traitor Baru Cormorant.)

Breathtakingly original and carefully crafted, The Traitor Baru Cormorant by debut novelist Seth Dickinson is one of those very few works that straddle the line between “genre” and “literary” fiction. It’s the story of a girl: a lover, a traitor, a savant, an accountant, and above all, a daughter of a huntress, a smith, and a shield-bearer, but it’s also a story of oppression, of resistance, of identity, and of politics.  With a novel years in the making, Seth Dickinson brings us the heart-... Read More

The Witching Hour: Imaginary genealogies are more fun than they sound

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

I’ve always wanted to be the kind of reader who revisits certain books every year. In practice… it doesn’t always happen. The Witching Hour by Anne Rice is an old favorite of mine — I first read it twenty years ago (wow) and have gone through, I think, four copies of it, and the fourth is looking a little haggard — and with its climactic action set around Christmastime, I always wanted it to be an annual winter reread for me. But like I said… it doesn’t always happen. It’s a busy time of year, and such a long book, and…

Last year, I actually did reread it over the holidays, and found myself feeling a little differently about it, and I think I’ve put my finger on why. I recently devoured Samantha Ellis’s memoir How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I’ve Learned... Read More

Fool’s Quest: Yeah, we both cried. Got a problem with that?

Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb

Last year I gave Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Assassin five stars and put it on my list of Best Books of 2014. Which puts me into a bit of a bind with her follow up, Fool’s Quest, since it’s even better. Clearly it will go on my Best of list for this year, but what about that rating? I may have to petition our fearless leader Kat for a sixth star waiver, or a five-plus category. Because in my mind, Fool’s Quest absolutely deserves that distinction. So, Kat, can I have 6 stars?

Sorry, Bill. We’re not equipped for that. But since I want to give Fool’s Quest 4.7745 stars, how about we average and round to 5 stars?

Sounds good. One of the reasons I fou... Read More

The Adventures of Venus by Gilbert Hernandez

The Adventures of Venus by Gilbert Hernandez

The Adventures of Venus is one of my favorite books by Gilbert Hernandez, and since I usually think he’s incapable of going below four-and-a-half out of five stars, I obviously think this comic is another five-star work of genius. It’s a collection of short comic strips in a simple cartoon-style about a young girl, Venus, and her observations on life. It’s really Peanuts-meets-Calvin and Hobbes with more realism. In fact, much of what I said about Marble Season applies to The Adventures of Venus, except Marble Season i... Read More

Fortunately, the Milk: A wacky children’s story read by Neil Gaiman

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

I never pass up a children’s story written and read by Neil Gaiman. The stories he writes for kids are among his best work and they’re even better when he reads them himself. The audiobook version of Fortunately, the Milk (HarperAudio) would make a great gift for parents who travel with children. Fortunately, the Milk will keep the entire family happily entertained for 1 hour.

In this very amusing story, a boy and his little sister are stuck at home with Dad while Mum is out of town at a conference. Mum left instructions for Dad and reminded him that he needed to pick up a carton of milk before breakfast in the morning. Well, he forgot, and the kids are upset about not having milk for their cereal. So Dad puts down his paper and heads off to the corner market for milk... Read More

Marble Season by Gilbert Hernandez

Marble Season by Gilbert Hernandez

Gilbert Hernandez is one of my favorite writers and artists, and I particularly like the way he depicts children in his comics. So I was eager to read Marble Season, a semi-autobiographical work about a boy named Huey growing up in California in the 1960s. Throughout the book, Huey simply acts like a kid, hanging out with his brothers and the other boys and girls in the neighborhood (the kids talk about the parents but they are always off-panel). That's as much of a plot as there is, and yet, this book is pure gold because, simply put, Gilbert Hernandez is a genius.

As I mentioned in my review of Read More

Grip: The Strange World of Men by Gilbert Hernandez

Grip: The Strange World of Men by Gilbert Hernandez

Gilbert Hernandez is one of my favorite writers and one of my favorite artists, so I love getting a chance to read anything by him. Grip: The Strange World of Men, as the subtitle suggests, is one of his strangest tales, and I’m a little stumped on what aspects of the plot to include in this review: I don’t want to spoil the fun of the surprises. First of all, Grip is a neo-pulp style work, blending three popular pulp genres: Noir-Mystery, Science Fiction, and Horror. The plot, however, might require two readings since it’s not as straight-forward as most fiction (in comics, novels, or movies).

The e... Read More

This Immortal: Flamboyant New Wave SF with Greek mythic overtones

This Immortal by Roger Zelazny

Roger Zelazny was one of the darlings of the New Wave in the 1960s, mainly with short stories, but his first novel This Immortal tied for the inaugural Nebula Award in 1966 with none other than Frank Herbert’s Dune, arguably the greatest SF novel ever. So how could this slight 174-page Ace paperback (David, if you will) rival a Goliath like Dune?

It’s the story of Conrad Nomikos, a man in charge of maintaining the ancient ruins of classical human civilization on a post-holocaust Earth scarcely-populated by humans, mutants, and fearsome mythical creatures, mainly as tourist attractions for the alien blue-skinned Vegans (no, they’re not opposed to animal... Read More

A Tolkien Bestiary: As engrossing as Tolkien’s novels

A Tolkien Bestiary by David Day

David Day’s A Tolkien Bestiary may be the greatest companion book ever. Even if it’s not, it’s still my favorite. Day provides an overview of people, places, races, and Middle Earth’s history. Although Day explains why he refers to the work as a bestiary, I usually think of it as an awesome encyclopedia.

In A Tolkien Bestiary, readers can lose themselves for hours at a time. I have encountered this book in many places — classrooms, libraries, and, of course, my childhood bedroom when visiting my parents during the holidays. Each time that I see it, I can’t resist opening it, thinking to learn more about the Istari or Elrond or Strider. Then, I go on to spend the better part of an hour reading about Melkor or the Valar or Gollum.

Barrow Wights ... Read More

Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen by Dylan Horrocks

Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen by Dylan Horrocks

I am giving Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen by Dylan Horrocks my highest recommendation with one qualification: Unless you are easily offended by depictions of male sexual fantasies — even those written and depicted in order to critique those fantasies — then you should read this book. Without a doubt, Dylan Horrocks has written and drawn a five-star graphic novel. The book offers various answers to this question: What is the nature of fantasy? In doing so, Horrocks considers fantasy from a variety of angles, so the book is not solely about sex.

The story is about a fictional comic book author Sam Zabel and his travels inside the worlds ... Read More

Speak Easy: Dark, scintillating Jazz Age fairy tale

Speak Easy by Catherynne M. Valente

I held off on reading Speak Easy by Catherynne M. Valente for a few weeks after it arrived because I knew once I started reading it, I’d want to do nothing else. When you look at the novella, this doesn’t seem like such a big problem. The advanced reader’s copy is a slim volume, thinner than my pinky finger (the signed limited-edition volumes for sale at Subterranean Press might be bigger; they are hardcovers, bound in cloth). But take a peek into the first page of Valente’s novella, and you get a sense of the denseness and beauty of her language:
There's this ragamuffin city out east, you follow? Sitting pretty with a river on each arm, lit up in her gladdest rags since 1624. She'll tell you she's seen it all, boy howdy, the deep down and the high up, champagne and syphili... Read More

The World Inside: High-Rise living in 2381

The World Inside by Robert Silverberg

In Robert Silverberg's 1970 novel Tower of Glass, obsessed business magnate Simeon Krug builds a 1,500-meter-high structure to enable him to communicate with the stars, and since 1,500 meters is roughly equal to 4,500 feet, or more than three Empire State Buildings, the reader is suitably impressed. But the following year, in his novel The World Inside, Silverberg wrote of a group of buildings that make Krug's structure look like a pip-squeak. This was just one of four major sci-fi novels released by Silverberg in 1971, the others being The Second Trip, Son of Man and A Time of Changes (all of which I have previously written of here on FanLit). The Read More

Film Review: The Tingler

The Tingler: This movie really IS a scream!

In 1958, director William Castle delivered to the world a film that has been chilling the collective backbones of horror buffs for over half a century now: House on Haunted Hill. And the following year, in one of the greatest one-two punches in horror history, Castle came up with a film that is certainly every bit as good, and perhaps, arguably, even better. In The Tingler, Castle brought back much of his team from the previous picture — leading man Vincent Price, screenwriter Robb White, composer Von Dexter — and again shot his production in uber-creepy B&W (with the notable exception of one scene, in which the color red features prominently). The result was another horror masterpiece (this one with some decided sci-fi overtones), another compact chiller for the ages, and another film in which Castle's gift for gimmickry was memorably on display. But whereas House works well... Read More

Uprooted: On my Best of 2015 list

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I loved Uprooted, by Naomi Novik, and I’m going to spend this review telling you exactly why. This post will be long and opinionated. I recommend you read Kate’s great review of this book, too.

Agnieszka (Ag-NESH-ka), daughter of a woodcutter, lives in a remote valley. The valley is menaced by the Wood, a source of frightening evil and corruption. It is different from the nearby forest, where Agnieszka spends much of her time. The valley is home to a powerful wizard called the Dragon, who holds back the Wood. Every ten years the Dragon takes a seventeen-year-old girl from the valley villages to serve him in his tower. It is the tenth year, and Agnieszka is seventeen.

What do I love about this lush fantasy nove... Read More