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Uprooted: On my Best of 2015 list

Uprooted by Naomi NovikI loved Uprooted, by Naomi Novik, and I’m going to spend this review telling you exactly why. This post will be long, opinionated and possibly spoilerish. If you don’t want to risk spoilers, I recommend you read Kate’s great review of this book.

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 ... Read More

The Library at Mount Char: Science and magic intertwine in this phenomenal debut

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Ever wonder what might happen if a god went missing? The Library at Mount Char is Scott Hawkins’ fiction debut, and in my personal opinion, it is flawless. There are no wasted words, no unnecessary plot digressions, no moments in which a character says, “Wow, this crisis is important! We should respond right away!” and then tootles off to fold laundry for ten paragraphs. Each detail is crucial, even if the reader doesn’t realize it for a hundred pages or more, and the resulting novel feels enormous and expansive though the page count doesn’t hit 400.

Garrison Oaks was a lovely little slice of Virginian 1970s suburbia, where Adam Black roasted meats in an enormous metal bull and shared beer with his neighbors. Things changed, though, in one cataclysmic afternoon. Black revealed himself to be something far more than human and took twelve local children in... Read More

Ready Player One: The best 80s gamer geek trivia romp yet written

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Were you a hard-core nerd or geek in junior high and high school in the 80s? You know, the ones who clustered at the library or at benches far from the jocks and cheerleaders, who thrilled at quoting lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, War Games, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Short Circuit, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Blade Runner, Legend, Dark Crystal, Krull, Star Trek, Conan the Barbarian, etc. The nerdy, awkward, pimply guys with the Members Only jackets and calculator watches whose closest contact with girls was ogling female goddesses in the Deities and Demigods Handbook. Or worse, an uber-nerd who was so uncool that even the other D&D guys wouldn’t accept you – not ME, of course, but A FRIEND, you know. Or perhaps you were a girl equally into the same pop references. I’m sure yo... Read More

Film Reviews: Village of the Damned (1960) & Children of the Damned (1964)

I'm reviewing these films together because they're available in this handy double feature DVD. Village of the Damned is also available on Amazon Instant Video.

Village of the Damned
:
These eyes...

A fairly faithful adaptation of John Wyndham's 1957 sci-fi thriller The Midwich Cuckoos (reviewed by Ryan), Read More

Edge: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.

Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) is probably Kurt Vonnegut’s most famous novel, and has been analyzed and debated by readers and critics alike for almost 50 years. It’s been listed as one of the 100 best novels of the 20th century by several organizations, and it’s fatalistic catchphrase “So it goes” is an iconic expression of Vonnegut’s view of the death and destruction of World War II, embodied in the firebombing of Dresden that he survived as a POW in an underground slaughterhouse. The b... Read More

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: The funniest SF novel of all time

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

I can’t think of any other SF book which is this incredibly funny, in that droll British way that Americans can never emulate. In 5th grade I first read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and three of its sequels, but it’s this book that stays most in memory. I’ve always wanted to revisit Douglas Adams’ story, even though I was a bit worried it might not be quite as brilliant as I remembered, but I can report that the audiobook narrated by English comedian and actor Stephen Fry is the perfect comic voice to capture the spirit of the book. Since the audiobook clocks in at just under six hours, I decided it would be a good companion for a day hike in the mountains an hour from Tokyo. Hopefully none of the other hikers were disturbed by the strange tall gaijin chuckling to himself on the trail.

The story (as most of... Read More

The Silver Metal Lover: I fell in love with a book about love

The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee

It's unfortunate that Tanith Lee had to pass away for me to get the jolt of interest needed to read her work. The Silver Metal Lover, one of her most loved works, is a story about an immature love that blossoms into a fully realized one, and about an immature girl who cries too often and falls in love too easily but blossoms into a strong-willed, independent woman. It's a story about Jane, and her relationship with her robot lover, Silver.

Were this tender novel published today, it would be shelved in the Young Adult section of a bookstore, but such a label had yet to be conceived when it was first published in 1981. It features some of the defining characteristics of that genre as well: a dystopic world whose foundations are crumbling (though in Silver Metal Lover the dystopic elements serve more as background), a young protagonist inexperien... Read More

Downward To The Earth: One of my favorite science fiction novels

Downward to the Earth by Robert Silverberg

Up until recently, I hadn't read Robert Silverberg's brilliant sci-fi novel Downward to the Earth in almost 27 years, but one scene remained as fresh in my memory as on my initial perusal: the one in which the book's protagonist, Edmund Gundersen, comes across a man and a woman lying on the floor of a deserted Company station on a distant world, their still-living bodies covered in alien fluid that is being dripped upon them by a basket-shaped organism, whilst they themselves act as gestating hosts to some parasitic larvae. This scene, perhaps an inspiration for the similar happenings in the Alien film of a decade later, is simply unforgettable, but as a recent rereading of the book has served to demonstrate, it is just one of many superbly rendered... Read More

A Clockwork Orange: A malenky bit of ultraviolence makes for a horrorshow jeezny

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Not everyone may be a fan of Anthony BurgessA Clockwork Orange, but we all know of it thanks to the iconic film by Stanley Kubrick. The image of juvenile delinquent Alex and his droogs with their frighteningly ruthless smiles, black hats, suspenders, and kicking boots as they terrorize helpless citizens while singing “Singin’ in the Rain” in a dystopian near-future London is impossible to forget.

The story is simple: Alex’s little gang goes on a horrifying crime spree until he is caught, put into prison, but is offered a new experimental therapy, the fictional Ludovico technique, which involves forcing the subject to watch violent imagery for extended periods while administering drugs that induce nausea. At the end of this treatment, little Alex cannot even think violent thoughts without being crippled with pain and nausea, with the uninte... Read More

Solaris: Can we communicate with an alien sentient ocean? If so, about what?

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

Solaris is an amazing little novel with a colorful history. First written in 1961 by Stanislaw Lem in Polish, it was then made into a two-part Russian TV series in 1968, before being made into a feature film by famous Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972. It only reached English publication in 1970 in a Polish-to-French-to-English translation. And just when you thought it had faded from attention, both James Cameron and Steven Soderbergh expressed interest in doing a remake, with Soderbergh getting the nod in 2002 because Cameron was busy with other movies. Finally, a direct Polish-to-English translation by Bill Johnston was made available as an ebook and audiobook in 2011. In my case, I saw the Tarkovsky film back in 1995, watched the Soderbergh film in 2002, finally read the 1970 translation in 2013, and listened to the audiobook version in 2015.

Are the book and films wort... Read More

Uprooted: Utterly satisfying and enthralling

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Agniezska is the brave, stubborn, sensitive heroine of Naomi Novik’s recent release, Uprooted — and she’s about to steal your heart. She comes from Dvernik, a remote village on the edges of the enchanted Wood, the dark forest that creeps like a blight over interior Polnya. The only thing holding the Wood back from engulfing the land is the Dragon, a feared sorcerer who lives nearby. For his work keeping the danger at bay, every ten years the Dragon demands one young woman from the village. As the time for “the taking” approaches, everyone in the village expects the Dragon to choose Kasia, Dvernik’s golden girl and Agniezska’s best friend. However, something about Agniezska catches the Dragon’s eye and she is the one chosen to leave her family and friends for ten years to serve him in his tower.
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The Darkness That Comes Before: Incredible epic fantasy; not for the faint of heart

The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker

I believe it warrants mentioning in the beginning of this review that I find myself in a position where my own review might not be, well, very critical. I have been holding off having to review R. Scott Bakker's The Darkness That Comes Before because, to put it bluntly, I love it so much that I don't think any review I could write would serve its purpose qua review. However, after some insistence from the powers that be — that would be the inimitable Kat Hooper, FanLit's founder and savior — I decided that maybe I did have something borderline cogent to say about it.

The Darkness That Comes Before is the first book of R. Scott Bakker's THE PRINCE OF NOTHING trilogy, itself the first of his THE SECOND A... Read More

Lois Lane: Fallout: Nancy Drew, eat your heart out!

Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond

Lois Lane: Fallout is the latest YA novel from Gwenda Bond and follows the adventures of Lois Lane, a sixteen-year-old army brat with a chip on her shoulder and a nose for trouble. She’s convinced that East Metropolis High will be a fresh start, unlike all those other schools she’s been to, where her efforts to help people in need always seem to end up adding black marks to her permanent record. Straighten up and fly right is her brand-new mantra, but this goes awry instantly when she overhears a young woman complaining about bullying to the principal, who brushes her concerns aside, and Lois takes it upon herself to intervene.

By speaking up for Anavi, Lois accidentally makes herself the target of the young woman’s bullies, a gang of students known as the Warheads. Luckily, she’s not alone — help is provided by Perry White, an editor at the Daily P... Read More

The Time Machine: An early masterpiece of science fiction

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

The Time Machine (1895) is one of H.G. Wells’ most visionary and influential novels. It introduced the concept of time travel to a large readership, one of the most often-used conceits in SF. It also depicts a frightening and apocalyptic vision of a far future Dying Earth that has influenced countless genre practitioners including as Jack Vance and Gene Wolfe.

The book starts out with an unnamed Time Traveller describing, to a dinner party, his revolutionary time-travelling device and the adventures he has with it. His first stop is 800,000 years in the future, where he encounters the Eloi, a gentle and simple-minded people, and the darker, un... Read More

Snow Crash: So much more than just “cyberpunk,” and funny as hell

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

This is probably my favorite cyberpunk novel of all time, but “cyberpunk” really doesn’t capture the book’s range. It runs the gamut of the Metaverse and avatars, skate punks, an anarcho-capitalist Balkanized United States, super-cool technology, neurolinguistic viruses, hacker communities, burbclaves, ancient Sumerian mythology, Aleutian harpoonist super assassins, the Church of Happyology, and last but not least, Uncle Enzo’s Cosa Nostra Pizza, where your pizza is delivered in less than 30 minutes or Uncle Enzo, the Mafia boss owner, will fly by helicopter to apologize to you in person. And the driver’s life is forfeit.

The opening chapters feature Hiro Protagonist, Last of the Freelance Hackers and Greatest Swordfighter in the World, as he strives to deliver a Pizza with 20 min already on the clock, in his black, kick-ass Deliverator vehicle, which sounds like the Batmobile customized f... Read More

Double Star: No second-rate actor could ever become president, right?

Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein

Double Star is one of Robert Heinlein’s most enjoyable early period SF novels, a short and tightly-plotted story of out-of-work actor Lawrence Smith (aka “The Great Lorenzo”), who is unexpectedly tapped for a very important acting job, to impersonate an important politician named John Bonforte who has been kidnapped. Initially the job is supposed to be just short-term until the real guy can be rescued, but as things drag out, this becomes more difficult. Even more surprisingly, Lorenzo finds he is actually getting quite good at impersonating Bonforte, and has started to understand and sympathize with his politics as well. But how far can this situation go before somebody blows his cover…

Published in 1956 and winner of the Hugo Award, this book is perfectly paced, with great supporting... Read More

The Philosopher’s Stone: A great book by an evolutionary “throw forward”

The Philosopher’s Stone by Colin Wilson

In her article on Colin Wilson in the May 30, 2004 Observer, reporter Lynn Barber mentioned that the author, then 73, had seemingly read "every book ever written." She also noted that Wilson claimed never to have thrown a book away, and that his home library in Cornwall contained approximately 30,000 volumes. Well, any reader who delves into the author's 1969 offering, The Philosopher's Stone, is not likely to dispute those statements. Though chosen for inclusion in Cawthorn & Moorcock's Fantasy: The 100 Best Books, the novel could just as easily have been placed on a Top 100 Horror or Science Fiction list, and its range of literary, cultural, historical and anthropological reference is immense. In his 1961 book Read More

Half the World: Beautiful and intimate characters make for an incredible read

Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie’s Half the World is book two of his SHATTERED SEA trilogy. Although Yarvi and some of the cast from book one do make an appearance, Half the World isn’t exactly a sequel to Half a King, and I almost think you could read it without having read book one. The overarching storyline follows Father Yarvi’s quest to find allies abroad as Gettland’s enemies close in, but on a micro level, Half the World is much more than that. In book two, Abercrombie introduces us to a pair of new, young protagonists, Thorn and Brand, two fighters who have their warrior dreams crushed by not being chosen for the King’s raids on the neighboring Vansterland. While Thorn faces the death penalty after ... Read More

The City and The Stars: Restless in a perfect future city

The City and The Stars by Arthur C. Clarke

The City and The Stars is a 1954 rewrite of Arthur C. Clarke’s first book Against the Fall of Night (1948). There are plenty of adherents of the original version, but the revised version is excellent too. As one of his earlier classic tales, this one features many familiar genre tropes: A far-future city called Diaspar, where technology is so sophisticated it seems like magic, a young (well not exactly, but close enough) protagonist who curiosity is so strong it overcomes the fear of the outside that all the other inhabitants share, and a gradually expanding series of discoveries by our hero Alvin (actually, would anyone really have a name that is shared by an animated chipmunk, one BILLION years in the future?) as he strives to discover the reality of his world, and the lar... Read More

Permutation City: A staple of transhumanistic fiction for a reason

Permutation City by Greg Egan

What would you give in exchange for immortality? Greg Egan's unabashed answer to that question in Permutation City is simple: Your humanity. Its sounds cliché, but Permutation City is a book that is able to do what only the best science fiction books can: make you think of questions you never knew you had, and imagine futures that seem ever more possible as time passes.

Around the mid-21st century, mind-uploading technology has been perfected, but its use is still limited to those few who can afford it. Moore's law no longer holds, and computing power is an ever scarcer and costlier commodity, so much so that Copies without the requisite funds to run indefinitely are put on hold until the computing resources become available. Paul Durham has been trying to experiment on Cop... Read More

Horrible Monday: Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant

Every now and then I happen upon a story that reminds me why I love science fiction so much. I love its imagination, the way an author extrapolates from the factual to the bizarre; and the more she can pack her fiction with solid science, the happier I am. Mira Grant achieved this for me in her NEWSFEED trilogy and her PARASITOLOGY series. Now she does it again, even better than before, in her new novella for Subterranean Press, Rolling in the Deep.

Grant starts from the premise that Imagine Network (which bears a striking resemblance to Syfy TV in our own reality) has moved from B-grade horror movies and reruns of science fiction classics into the production of documentaries. These documentaries, however, are not straight reporting; they involve sear... Read More

The Comic Book Film Adaptation: Exploring Modern Hollywood’s Leading Genre by Liam Burke

The Comic Book Film Adaptation: Exploring Modern Hollywood’s Leading Genre by Liam Burke

The Comic Book Film Adaptation: Exploring Modern Hollywood’s Leading Genre, by Liam Burke, is a scholarly look at the comic book movie genre, examining why these movies became so popular since the turn of the new century as well as the various elements than can be said to constitute the genre. Burke also discusses the question of fidelity to the original source material and how that fidelity has lately been affected by the rise of mass fan culture. It’s a learned, well-documented, highly informative exploration and highly recommended for anyone interested in comics books, either their film or print versions.

After a brief introduction, the book moves through five relatively lengthy sections, each focused on a different area. I’ll address each chapter separat... Read More

Nineteen Eighty-Four: A powerful and prescient warning

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Along with Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, first published in 1949, is the one of the most powerful and important dystopian novels ever written, and unquestionably a work of science fiction thanks to its depiction of a future totalitarian regime that controls every aspect of its citizens’ mental and physical existence. It’s hard to imagine any educated person in the English-speaking world who hasn’t heard the terms Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime, and Newspeak, even if they’re not sure exactly what the terms mean. It’s also likely that many readers were exposed to Nineteen Eighty-Four in high school English or Humanities class... Read More

Star Maker: The grandest vision of the universe

Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon

Star Maker is perhaps the grandest and most awe-inspiring vision of the universe ever penned by a science fiction author, before the term even existed, in 1937 by the pioneering Englishman Olaf Stapledon.

Although some readers might think that Star Maker was only outstanding for its time, it remains an amazing tour-de-force today, and has clearly inspired many of the genre’s most famous practitioners, including Arthur C. Clarke, with its fountain of ideas about galaxies, nebulae, cosmological minds, artificial habitats, super-heavy-gravity environments, an infinite variety of alien species, and telepathic communications among stars.

This may be the only novel I’ve read that essentially has no individual characters. A nameless narrator sits ... Read More

The Stars My Destination: Tiger, tiger, burning bright, intent on revenge

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Much has been written about Alfred Bester’s classic 1956 SF novel The Stars My Destination (Tiger! Tiger! in the United Kingdom). According to Wikipedia, it is considered one of the best SF books of all time by many authors such as Neil Gaiman, Joe Haldeman, Samuel. R. Delany, Robert Silverberg, and William Gibson. Predating cyberpunk by almost three decades (if you count from Gibson’s Neuromancer in 1984), it features a fully-real... Read More