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The Broken Sword: A dark fantasy classic

The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword (1954) was selected by David Pringle in his Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, and is highly praised by Michael Moorcock, whose character Elric of Melnibone and his demon-possessed sword Stormbringer are directly inspired by The Broken Sword. The audio version is narrated by Bronson Pinchot, who has an amazing vocal range and narrates with passion.

To get right to the point, this book is amazing and deserves a much wider readership. It’s one of the most powerful, tightly-written and relentlessly-dark high fantasies I’ve ever read. It’s chock full of Norse gods, demigods, Vikings, elves, trolls, goblins, sea serpents, evil witches... Read More

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent Eric Anderson

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent Eric Anderson

Marvel’s X-Men franchise is long-running and crosses into so many different titles that it’s difficult to know where to start if you know only the movies, but want to start reading some actual comics. There are many excellent titles to start with, but the stand-alone 1982 graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills is the book I recommend for those who want the single best X-Men title that makes clear the thematic significance of the X-Men characters as outsiders persecuted for their differences.

Christopher Claremont’s story is not for those looking for light entertainment. He deals explicitly with the conne... Read More

The Anubis Gates: A very generous book

Reposting to include Katie's new review.

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

Tim Powers' fourth novel, 1983's The Anubis Gates, is a book that I had been meaning to read for years. Chosen for inclusion in both David Pringle's Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels and Jones & Newman's Horror: 100 Best Books, as well as the recipient of the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award in 1984, the book came with plenty of good word of mouth, to say the least. And, as it turns out, all the ballyhoo back when was ... 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

Bubba Ho-Tep: All shook up!!!

Bubba Ho-Tep directed by Don Coscarelli

It can be a tricky balancing act, coming up with the perfect film in the genre known as the horror comedy; a picture that is hilariously funny while at the same time being truly scary. And while there is no shortage of films with a decidedly uneven ratio of horror::comedy — such as 1960's The Little Shop of Horrors, 1974's Young Frankenstein and 1975's The Rocky Horror Picture Show — such films usually come off as pure comedies, only with a horror setting. But when the balance is just right, such as in The Ghost Breakers (1940), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948, and still probably the finest exemplar of the horror comedy ever made) and Spider Baby (1964), the result can be a timeless and wonderful entertainment. To my great surprise, to this latter category must be added Don Coscarelli's Bubba Ho-Tep, which has become a deserved cult item since i... Read More

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: Running to write

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

I have just finished reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running for the fifth time. I love this book, and although I wouldn’t say it’s the greatest book ever written, it may be my favorite book ever written.

At the title suggests, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a series of essays and memoirs, mostly centering on running. However, it’s also the story of how Murakami went from running a jazz club in Tokyo to writing novels. Murakami also touches on his love of vinyl albums, his translating the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Carver into Japanese, and his love of Sam Adams beer. More substantially (for some readers) he shares his ideas about competition, aging, and rel... Read More

VALIS: Reconciling human suffering with divine purpose

VALIS by Philip K Dick

It's often said that "one must suffer for one's art." They must have been referring to Philip K. Dick. He slaved away in relative obscurity and poverty at a typewriter for decades, churning out a prodigious flow of low-paid Ace and Berkeley paperbacks (sometimes fueled by amphetamines), went through five marriages, battled with depression, mental illness and suicide attempts, all culminating in a bizarre religious experience in 1974, and struggled to come to grips with this for the next eight years until his death in 1982 from a stroke at age 54. And yet it wasn’t until VALIS (1981) and the posthumous Radio Free Albemuth (1985) that he addressed these experiences directly in fictional form.

So if you want to get inside the mind of PDK, Radio Free Albemuth ... Read More

The Book Of Skulls: A far cry from Daytona Beach!

The Book Of Skulls by Robert Silverberg

Because he has garnered no fewer than eight Hugo and Nebula Awards over the years, has been inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Hall of Fame, and has been, since 2005, anyway, an SFWA Grand Master, it might be difficult to credit the notion that Robert Silverberg might also be a writer of horror. And yet, there it is, the 55th book under discussion in Jones & Newman's excellent overview volume Horror: Another 100 Best Books; namely, The Book of Skulls, which first saw the light of day in 1972, the same year that its author released the masterly Dying Inside. Though its claims for being listed as a sci-fi novel are as debatable as its claims to being labeled horror or fantasy, the book WAS nevertheless n... Read More

The Girl Who Could Not Dream: Dreams come true… with rainbows and teeth

The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst

Monsters, glittery flying ponies, ninja bunnies and other fantastical creatures inhabit the pages of The Girl Who Could Not Dream, Sarah Beth Durst’s enchanting new middle grade fantasy adventure novel. Sophie’s parents own a secretive dream shop, where you can buy bottled dreams or ― if you prefer more frightening adventures ― nightmares. (It’s like reading a Stephen King novel, only more immersive.) Her family uses woven dreamcatchers to capture other peoples' dreams, and then her parents distill the dreams into liquid form, bottle them and sell them to customers.

Because Sophie has never had a dream of her own, when she was six years old her curiosity led her to swipe a dream b... Read More

100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso

100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello (writer) & Eduardo Risso (artist)

100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso is one of the first lengthy comic book series I read (along with Y: The Last Man and Sandman), and it remains one of my favorites, competing in its writing and art with the best that Sandman has to offer. Which one of the two series is your favorite will probably depend on what kind of genre you like best. Sandman appeals to lovers of fantasy, horror, and mythology; 100 Bullets ... Read More

Half in Shadow: 14 perfect gems

Half in Shadow by Mary Elizabeth Counselman

In my review of Jessie Douglas Kerruish's The Undying Monster, I warned readers away from the British publishing outfit known as Flame Tree 451, because of the company's slapdash manner of proofreading and editing its products. But just as there are some publishers that should be avoided, there exist others whose books might be safely recommended just by virtue of the company's imprint itself. Such a one, for me, is Arkham House, which, for 76 years now, has shown infinite care in the production of its publications. Originally founded in 1939 by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei to preserve the legacy of H.P. Lovecraft, the firm has remained consistent in bringing to market meticulously curated editions, featuring bea... Read More

Mad Ship: Complex characters struggle for power and freedom

Mad Ship by Robin Hobb

This review will contain spoilers for the previous novel, Ship of Magic.

Mad Ship is the second book in Robin Hobb’s LIVESHIP TRADERS trilogy which is part of her larger REALMS OF THE ELDERLINGS saga. (I’ve explained how all the trilogies in the ELDERLINGS books are connected in my review of the first LIVESHIP TRADERS book, Ship of Magic.) I loved this trilogy when I read it about 20 years ago and I’m currently enjoying re-reading it in audio format. Anne Flosnik, who narrates the books for Tantor Audio, has a nice voice and does a good job distinguishing between the characters in Hobb’s large cast. These... Read More

Vermilion Sands: A desert resort for artists, former film stars, and wealthy eccentrics

Vermilion Sands by J.G. Ballard

J.G. Ballard’s Vermilion Sands (1971) was first published as a U.S. paperback by Berkley in 1971, and was then published by Cape in the U.K. as a hardback in 1973. It contained the following stories:

"Prima Belladonna" (1956), "The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista " (1962), "Cry Hope, Cry Fury!" (1966), "Venus Smiles" (1957), "Studio 5, The Stars" (1961), "The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D" (1967), "Say Goodbye to the Wind" (1970), "The Screen Game" (1962), "The Singing Statues" (1962)

Sometimes you encounter a book that is intelligent, brilliantly-written, wryly-humorous, hypnotic, and almost completely resistant to description without reducing it to triviality. The stories here showcase artists of different mediums, faded film stars now dwelling in obscur... 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

Ship of Magic: Brilliant characterization

Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb

I doubt that there are many lovers of epic fantasy that wouldn’t list Robin Hobb as one of their favorite epic fantasy authors. Hobb creates wonderfully detailed worlds and characters that are complex and convincing. Her best-loved stories are those that star FitzChivalry Farseer, the bastard son of the man who abdicated the throne in the Six Duchies. Fitz’s best friend is a strange man he calls “The Fool.” We meet Fitz and the Fool in THE FARSEER SAGA, the first trilogy of the REALMS OF THE ELDERLINGS series. Their story continues years later in the TAWNY MAN trilogy and then, again after many years have passed, starts up again in Hobb’s latest trilogy, FITZ AND THE FOOL. The Fool never really tells Fitz what he does during the long periods of time tha... Read More

A Time of Changes: Reminiscent of other novels, but still excellent

A Time of Changes by Robert Silverberg

A Time of Changes is one of Robert Silverberg’s best novels from his most prolific and creative period in the late 1960s/early 1970s, along with Downward to the Earth and Dying Inside. Once again, Sandy’s review (below) is both excellent and comprehensive, so I can only add my personal impressions.

In many ways, this book resembled Evgeny Zamyatin’s We (1924) and Ayn Rand’s Anthem (1938) since it depicted a repressive society that demonizes the individual, venerates the group, and suppresses private feelings. In both books, the concept of “I” is forbidden, and people have numbers in place of... Read More

An Inheritance of Ashes: Probably going on my best books of 2015 list

An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet

There are two things to know about Leah Bobet’s An Inheritance of Ashes. The first is that it is going on my list of potential best books of the year. It’s that good. The other is that you should ignore the genre marketing which has Bobet’s novel listed as YA, I assume because of its sixteen-year-old protagonist. But An Inheritance of Ashes has a deeply adult sensibility, whether in its treatment of war, heroism, family, romance, or trauma, and it would be a shame if it were lost any readers due to labeling (even recognizing that many adult readers do read YA).

An Inheritance of Ashes is set just after the end of the war in the south against the Wicked God and his followers, which included human “irregulars” led by the prophet Asphodel Jones and “Twisted Things,” monstrous creatures wh... Read More

The Sandman (Vol. 4): Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman (Vol. 4): Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman (Vol. 4): Season of Mists collections issues 21 through 28 of Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece, and since The Sandman, like most series, was a monthly, we should notice that by issue 21 Gaiman was wrapping up his second year on the title and well into his third yea... Read More

High-Rise: Lord of the Flies in an urban luxury high-rise

High-Rise by J.G. Ballard

If you had the chance, would you live in a massive, 1,000-unit luxury high-rise with its own supermarket, liquor shop, schools, pools, gyms, etc.? Instead of living in some dreary suburb with boring, prosaic neighbors, why not join an elite group of young and successful professionals, like-minded and sophisticated, with immaculate taste and superb social connections? Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to join the elite upper echelons of society? This is the scenario that J.G. Ballard creates in High-Rise (1975), and then proceeds to plunge the reader into a nightmare of barbarity, roving bands of marauding residents, festering piles of garbage and refuse, and a total collapse of social order and morals. It is a deliciously dark fable, one that was spot-on back in 1975, and that remains incredibly relevant t... Read More

Crooked: The best book I’ve read this year

Crooked by Austin Grossman

Austin Grossman’s Crooked is the best book I’ve read this year. I expected good things from Lev Grossman’s twin brother, but not much otherwise as I am not — was not — a big fan of Nixon or, indeed, of American history in general. Let’s be real, I’m an unpatriotic Europhile who prefers reading about the Tudors to the Kennedys, who will always find the Norman Conquest more interesting than the American Civil War. But by the end of the first chapter, I was breathless, thrilled, entertained and excited beyond my wildest expectations. Also, obsessed with Richard Nixon.

Crooked tells the story of Richard Milhous Nixon’s rise to power, complete with childhood in Yorba Linda, fight against the Communists as a young senator, Vice... 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

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