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The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women

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The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

Hard as it may be to fathom, once upon a time (the early 1900s), radium was thought of as a miracle substance, enhancing all it touched. And so companies flooded the market with products like radium makeup, radium water, radium butter, radium toothpaste, and radium paint. The last was used by the young women who painted luminescent numerals on watch dials (a tool that became all-important to the war effort), though they also snuck some paint now and then to paint their nails, their dresses, even sometimes in sillier moments their teeth and faces. They had no idea, of course, that they were poisoning themselves, and the story of the devastation that poison wreaked on their bodies, and their subsequent fight for compensation from the companies who knew of the substance’s danger makes for compelling, infuriating, heartbreaking re... Read More

Feed: One more zombie novel?

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Feed by Mira Grant

I have grown weary of zombies. In the past five years, everyone started writing zombie novels, apparently out of ennui at the thought of writing yet another variation on vampires, and that was good. But the mass of zombie material all seemed to hit the market at the same time, and it was too much, too undiluted, with too many books that weren’t good enough to be worth reading. Soon I was avoiding any book that purported to be about zombies, because, hey, enough already.

So when Mira Grant’s Feed came on the market, I was not inclined to read it, especially because it was published in that really annoying new taller and thinner paperback format — it’s less comfortable in the hand and it... Read More

Sex: Summer of Hard by Joe Casey (or: Considering Ethics and Literature)

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Sex (Vol. 1): Summer of Hard by Joe Casey (writing) and Piotr Kowalski (art)

or, Considering Ethics and Literature:

I have been hesitant to read Joe Casey’s Sex because it seems like such a blatant attempt to gain the type of readership of which I did not want to be a part. However, I recently decided I should not judge so harshly before reading it. I must admit, now, that I am impressed with the first eight issues: Sex is a fantastic story with an actual point to it, and it is not simply an indulgence in gratuitous sex. However, later in my review, I will address the graphic content (to put it mildly), which will offend many potential readers, and this content should make you pause a long time before even considering reading Sex. Every type of sex is portrayed; even those resulting in murder... Read More

Prince of Fools: A slick, well-crafted buddy adventure fantasy

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Reposting to include Tim's new review.

Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

Prince Jalan Kendeth is the black sheep of the family. A self-confessed untrustworthy scoundrel and coward who has taken every advantage of the life of luxury that comes with being royalty, he is perfectly content with his life as it is and has no plans to change or inclination for greater things. However, when he crosses paths with a courageous Viking named Snorri, Jal discovers that he may have been destined to stand against an undead evil. Snorri is returning north to rescue his family and, despite his unwillingness, Jal is bound by mystic forces to accompany him.

For those (like me) who are already die-hard Mark Lawrence fans, Prince of Fools, the first book in the RED QUEEN'S WAR series, is just what we expected — pure awesomeness and then some. But for those of... Read More

Kings of the Wyld: Getting the band back together

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Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

When Clay Cooper returns home from work to find his old friend, Gabriel, waiting on him, he knows something is wrong. He learns that Gabe's headstrong daughter has run off to be a mercenary and ended up in a city besieged by an overwhelming horde of monsters. Gabe is now desperate to get their "band," Saga, back together and go save her. Saga used to be the most famous mercenary band ever. Tales of Slowhand Clay, Golden Gabe, Arcandius Moog, Matrick Skulldrummer, and Ganelon are still told in the pubs throughout the kingdom to this day.

However, that was many years ago, and they're no longer the young men they used to be. Clay, in particular, has happily retired to a quiet life in the country with his wife and daughter. So, with great reluctance Clay turns his best friend down. But later,... Read More

A Criminal Magic: Suspenseful plot, great descriptions of magic

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly

In A Criminal Magic, Lee Kelly creates a world in which the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1919, banned sorcery rather than alcohol. Kelly combines remarkable creativity, imagination, and insight into the human condition, blending fantasy with history and ending up with a complex, entertaining, compelling novel.

Naturally, the passage of A Criminal Magic’s fictional amendment results in the same response as its historical analogue: sorcerers are thrust into the criminal underworld, brewing an illegal ruby-red elixir. This “shine,” as it’s known, is smuggled by gangsters into “shining rooms” across the country, fronted by legal liquor bars and raided by members of the Federal Prohibition Unit who... Read More

The Lathe of Heaven: Dreaming of Utopia

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin

When George Orr sleeps, he sometimes has “effective” dreams that alter reality. Believing that he has no right to effect such changes, George begins taking drugs to suppress the dreams. As the drugs lose their efficacy, George ups the dosage, exceeding legal limits. George is caught and ordered to choose between therapy and asylum. He chooses therapy and is sent to Dr. William Haber. When Haber realizes that George is not crazy and that these “effective” dreams indeed change reality, the psychiatrist decides to make the world a better place.

And why not? Overpopulated, polluted, radioactive, and starving – humanity’s near future is an age of terrible consequences. The world could use a dreamer, figures Haber, so he hypnotizes George to shape the future.

By t... Read More

The Halloween Tree: The best history lesson you’ll ever have

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Reposting to include Jason's new review.

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
It was a small town by a small river and a small lake in a small part of a Midwest state. There wasn’t so much wilderness around you couldn’t see the town. But on the other hand there wasn’t so much town you couldn’t see and feel and touch and smell the wilderness. 

So reads the charming first sentence of Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree. A perfectly gothic yarn that seeks, through the hop skip and jump adventure of a group of young boys and their sinister guide, to convey the true meaning of Halloween.

It is Halloween night and Tom Skelton and his group of boys are dressed up and ready for adventure. Leaving their poorly friend P... Read More

Shards of Honor: Fall in love with the Vorkosigans

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Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

Editor's note: This is Marion's review of Shards of HonorBarrayar, and The Warrior’s Apprentice. Kat's comments about Shards of Honor and Tadiana's review are below.

Do you like fancy military uniforms? Shiny spaceships that blow things up? Brooding aristocrats with hulking stone castles and dark secrets? Snappy comebacks and one-liners? Voluptuous women warriors? Swords and secret passages? Surprising twists on standard military tactics of engagement?

If you answered “Yes” to three or more, check out the Vorkosigan Saga. Lois McMaster Bujold started this series in the mid-80s. The Vorkosigan books start out as space opera, even having maps of the various planets a... Read More

Central Station: A snapshot of a strangely familiar time

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Reposting to include Bill's new review.

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Central Station is a thoughtful, poignant, human take on a possible future. For the most part Central Station occurs at the titular port on planet earth. This space resides in what we know today as Tel Aviv, but in the distant future it has gone through many names and many people. Everything seems to begin in earnest when Boris Chong arrives in Central Station after spending a great deal of time away — some of which on Mars. Central Station, the place, is a half-thought meeting of a variety of worlds. Central Station the book is more thoughtful than I think I know how to express, but I’ll give it a try.

Central Station occurs in the very spot where humans expanded from our first planet th... Read More

The Proverbs of Middle-Earth: The wise speak only of what they know

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The Proverbs of Middle-Earth by David Rowe

The Proverbs of Middle-Earth is a smart, readable literary analysis of J.R.R. Tolkien’s use of proverbs in his worlds of Middle-Earth, including The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and (less so) The Silmarillion. If you’re a passionate fan of Tolkien, you’ll absolutely adore this book. Period. If you love the Peter Jackson films, this book will provide an enjoyable ... Read More

The Infinite Wait and Other Stories by Julia Wertz

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The Infinite Wait and Other Stories by Julia Wertz

The Infinite Wait and Other Stories by Julia Wertz is one of my favorite “slice of life” comics, and it is one I’ve taught several times in my course on comics. A memoir in three parts, The Infinite Wait and Other Stories is memorable for the reader because of Wertz’s strong voice as presented in two ways: through the drawn character we see — the “Julia” we watch living through the events recounted — and through the voice of the narrator, a future Wertz we “hear” but do not see, as she looks back and comments on the Julia in each panel as she lives ... Read More

The Fisherman: Five-star horror

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The Fisherman
by John Langan

The Fisherman (2016), by John Langan, gets my first five-star review of 2017. The Fisherman is a story about bereavement. It is a story about dead wives and children. And it’s a story about fishing and the things we pull up from beneath the surface. It is horror; it will disturb you while you’re reading it, and sneak up on you for days afterward.

Langan structures The Fisherman as a series of nested stories. The story of Abe, a widower who works for IBM in 1990s New York, brackets the book, but Abe’s story is about Abe and Dan, and their story is about the story they hear from Howard. Howard’s story is really Lottie’s s... Read More

The Found and the Lost: Masterful stories by one of the genre’s greats

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The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Found and the Lost is the companion volume to The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, a hefty 816-page book or 34-hour audiobook collection of Ursula K. Le Guin’s novellas. It contains most of the stories that make up Four Ways to Forgiveness (1995) a set of linked stories in her HAINISH CYCLE about the two worlds of Werel and Yeowe, and explores the themes of slavery, oppression, revolution, and redemption. It also contains sev... Read More

Lud-in-the-Mist: Unconventional and terribly lovely

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees

I find myself in something of an awkward position with Lud-in-the-Mist, which is in part why it’s difficult to review. The fact of the matter is that while Lud-in-the-Mist is unequivocally an excellent novel, it is not always an enjoyable novel, and there is a large population of readers out there who may find it close to nauseating.

Lud-in-the-Mist is Hope Mirrlees’s only fantasy novel, and indeed the only one of her three novels for which she is remembered (and that, for the most part in recent years, because Neil Gaiman has put in a goo... Read More

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day: A brief, but tender, ghost story

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Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire’s novella Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day (2017) is a sensitive tale of love, loss, and regret — the kind that haunts people, turns them into ghosts, makes them flee thousands of miles from their homes, makes them linger somewhere long after it’s time for them to leave.

In 1972, Jenna Pace’s older sister Patty committed suicide in New York City, far away from her family home in Mill Hollow, Kentucky. Jenna, wracked with grief, ran out into a freak thunderstorm and tumbled into a ravine, where she died. Because her life ended before it was supposed to, though, Jenna remains in the living world as a ghost, able to make her body corporeal or insubstantial at will. She moved to NYC shortly after her death and (... Read More

A Clash of Kings: No one will escape

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

Renly Baratheon explains, “I have it in me to be a great king, strong yet generous, clever, just, diligent, loyal to my friends and terrible to my enemies, yet capable of forgiveness, patient…” Renly’s only problem, besides arrogance, is that he has no legal claim to the Iron Throne of Westeros — excepting the strength of his army. Luckily for Renly, Westeros’ leaders no longer seem to require any legitimacy beyond the power of their armies and the ruthlessness of their bannermen. Perhaps the laws of the realm were always a whitewash, but now even Sansa Stark has begun to realize that the laws of the state are twisted to strengthen the powerful rather than enforced to protect the powerless.

In a realm like this, it should come as no surprise that Renly is only one of many ... Read More

The Shadow of the Torturer: SFF’s greatest and most challenging epic

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Reposting to include Stuart's review of THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN epic.

The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

For those of you enjoy audiobooks, this is the perfect time to finally read (or to re-read) Gene Wolfe's The Shadow of the Torturer. Audible Frontiers recently put it on audio and the excellent Jonathan Davis is the reader.

The Shadow of the Torturer introduces Severian, an orphan who grew up in the torturer's guild. Severian is now sitting on a throne, but in this first installment of The Book of the N... Read More

Batman: The Man Who Laughs by Ed Brubaker

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Batman: The Man Who Laughs (2005) #1 by Ed Brubaker

Ed Brubaker is one of the best writers in comics overall, and he is unquestionably the best writer of noir comics. Batman: The Man Who Laughs is a re-imagining of what Batman’s first encounter with the Joker might have been like. In the story, the Joker makes his presence known and tells Gotham that he will kill one-by-one prominent Gothamites. He even names the specific day and time of each death. After the first wealthy target — surrounded by police and watched covertly by Batman — dies precisely on time, the story builds in intensity, particularly once Joker announces a few more targets, and the last one is Bruce Wayne. This one-shot story is a good represe... Read More

The Dispossessed: Not simply an anarchist utopia/capitalist dystopia

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

The Dispossessed is a perfectly achieved thought experiment, perhaps Ursula K. Le Guin’s greatest achievement, but there is little I can say that hasn’t been said more eloquently, forcefully, thoroughly, or knowledgeably by other reviewers. It transcends genre as a Novel of Ideas. It explores with great intelligence anarchism-socialism vs capitalism; freedom/slavery in terms of politics, economics, society, intellectual endeavor, and personal relationships; the struggle to perfect a scientific theory that unifies time and space; whether human nature inevitably corrupts all political ideals; whether political utopias can ever be achieved to a meaningful degree; whether only hardship a... Read More

Weird Tales: Seven Decades of Terror: Another wonderful collection from “The Unique Magazine”

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Weird Tales: Seven Decades of Terror edited by John Betancourt & Robert Weinberg

This is the seventh anthology that I have reviewed that has been drawn from the pages of Weird Tales, one of the most famous pulp magazines in publishing history. Each of the previous collections had employed its own modus operandi in presenting its gathered stories. Weird Tales (1964) and Worlds of Weird (1965) had been slim paperbacks featuring previously uncollected stories. The Best of Weird Tales: 1923 (1997) had spotlighted tales solely from WT’s very first year. Weird Tales: A Selection In Facsimile (1990) was a generous hardcover offering photocopied pages from the original magazine. Read More

Invisible Cities: Philosophical sketches of imaginary cities

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Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino has long been on my list of foreign writers of the fantastic who have been deeply influential to SFF writers while remaining only tangential to the genre. This would include the great Jorge Luis Borges, as well as Stanislaw Lem. All these writers revel in philosophical musings, magic realism, and intellectual play. They belong to the deeper end of the fantastic literature swimming pool, but adventurous readers and authors have often plunged into those depths to one degree or another.

Invisible Cities was first published in Italian in 1972 but appeared in English in 1974 and was a surprise nominee for the Nebula Award in 1976. It is a unique and al... Read More

Infomocracy: Terrifyingly prescient

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Infomocracy by Malka Older

In the latter half of the twentieth century, most of the world (a few areas like Saudi Arabia excepted) has moved to a form of government called micro-democracy. The world is divided into "centenals" of about 100,000 people each, and each centenal votes for its own separate government. The political party that wins control of the most centenals wins the Supermajority, which gives that party additional political clout and power, although the specific details of that Supermajority power aren’t entirely clear. There are dozens, if not more, political parties, though only about a dozen have worldwide clout. Parties are based on all types of factors: aspects of identity (like race, nationality or religion), a particular view of policy, the importance of military might, loyalty to a particular large corporation, etc. In fact, one of the most powerful parties in the world is Philip... Read More

Artemis by George O’Connor

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Artemis by George O’Connor

Artemis is another in the ongoing series of graphic stories about the Greek gods written and illustrated by George O'Connor. The short version of this review is pretty simple: these works are individually nearly all excellent, and the series as a whole, while absolutely great for young readers (and for teachers of young students), is just as fantastic a read/resource for anyone interested in Greek mythology, regardless of age. One reason is that O'Connor doesn't simply retell the well-known stories, those we can all recite by heart. Rather he delves into much ... Read More

A Feast of Sorrows: A sampler of delicious poison

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A Feast of Sorrows by Angela Slatter

Angela Slatter was one of those authors I’d always been meaning to read. I have one of her earlier collections, The Girl with No Hands, on my Kindle and hadn’t gotten around to it yet. And then this year, her collection A Feast of Sorrows hit the US shelves. I was intrigued by Alyx Dellamonica’s review at Tor.com, not to mention seduced by the cover, and the rest was history.

A Feast of Sorrows is a collection of dark fairy tales. Some are retellings of fairy tales we all know, some are more loosely based on known tales, and some are completely new. I’m not kidding about the darkness (trigger warning: everything you can think of, and then some), yet they are m... Read More