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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

The Jaguar Hunter: Powerful, hallucinatory stories in exotic locales

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The Jaguar Hunter by Lucius Shepard

I try to avoid excessive praise unless it is truly deserved, but I can say this without hesitation -- Lucius Shepard was one of the best SF short story writers of the 1980s. His prose, imagery, themes, and style are so powerful, dynamic, and vivid that it’s a real crime that he didn't gain a wider readership when he was alive, though he did win many awards.

He burst on the scene with his short story collection The Jaguar Hunter, which won the 1988 World Fantasy Award and Locus Award for Best Collection. Many of the stories were nominated for the Hugo and Nebula Awards, with “Salvador” winning the Locus Award in 1985 and “R&R” winning the Nebula Award in 1987. His work is characterized by strong elements of magic realism,... Read More

Children of Earth and Sky: Another masterwork from Guy Gavriel Kay

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Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay

A new Guy Gavriel Kay novel is cause for great celebration and anticipation in our household, as he has authored some of our most beloved novels over the decades (by “our” I mean my wife, my fifteen-year-old son, and myself). A consummate storyteller and stylist (the two don’t always go hand in hand), his long-term consistency is remarkable, and his newest work, Children of Earth and Sky, finds him still at the top of his form.

One way to describe a Guy Gavriel Kay novel is that it’s a bit like peering at history as it unfolds at the bottom of a pool of water (think of the water as Kay’s artistic imagination) — you mostly recognize what you’re looking at, but thanks to the effects of refraction and distortion, it’s just a little off, bot... Read More

Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick: A revealing biography of PKD

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Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick by Lawrence Sutin

Philip K. Dick is certainly one of the most iconic, unusual, and hard-luck SF writers ever to grace the field. His books subvert our everyday reality, question what is human, and explore paranoia and madness, all with a uniquely unadorned and often blackly-humorous style. In classic starving artist fashion, he only gained recognition and cult-status late in life, and much of his fame came after passing away at age 53.

In his prolific career he published 44 novels and 121 short stories, and in 2014-2015 I read 10 of his novels, 7 audiobooks, and 3 short story collections. There’s something so enticing about his paranoid, darkly-comic tales of everyday working-class heroes, troubled psychics, bizarre aliens, sini... Read More

Haunted Castles: The Complete Gothic Stories: Exquisite, gruesome

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Haunted Castles by Ray Russell

Thanks to the ongoing Penguin Classics series, this reader was finally able to purchase and enjoy Chicago-born author Ray Russell’s classic novel of modern-day exorcism, The Case Against Satan (1962), which the publisher rereleased in late 2015. Now, Penguin Classics has followed up by giving the world a beautiful new edition of the 1985 Russell anthology entitled Haunted Castles: The Complete Gothic Stories, which consists of three novellas and four shorter pieces ... and this new edition comes complete with an impressively erudite introduction by famed Mexican director Read More

The Weaver: An enchantingly dream-like novel

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The Weaver by Emmi Itäranta

The Weaver (2016),  Emmi Itäranta’s second novel, is a powerful story that occupies a space between the fantastical and the allegorical. Filled with its own symbols and mythology, and set in a world with eerie similarities to our own, Itäranta’s tale of an isolated island community’s struggle to maintain order is worth several re-reads — not just for the pleasure of her prose or for the compelling plot and characters, but for the secondary text woven like a bright thread within the primary body of the novel.

Our narrator and guide is Eliana, a young woman who works in the House of Webs, a respected institution where talented weavers create blankets, tapestries, and more. What could be an idyllic li... Read More

The Woman in Black: A surprisingly great spine tingler

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The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

So what does a young actor do after starring in one of the most lucrative franchises in cinema history? That was the precise dilemma facing the 22-year-old Daniel Radcliffe in 2011, upon the completion of his 8th and final Harry Potter film. The Potter series had brought in a whopping $7.7 billion worldwide over its 10-year run, firmly establishing Radcliffe as an international star. And so, the question: What next? Wisely, the young actor’s follow-up project was another in the supernatural/fantasy vein, and one that was also based on an already well-loved source. The film was 2012’s The Woman In Black, another successful film for Radcliffe, having been produced for $15 million and bringing in almost $130 million at the box office. The film was based on English author Susan ... Read More

Guns of the Dawn: Austen collides with muskets, warlocks and war-machines

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Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Guns of the Dawn, originally published in 2015 in hardback and ebook, with a paperback version due on November 1, 2016, is my favorite fantasy that I’ve read this year ... and I read a lot of fantasy.

The story begins in media res, as gentlewoman Emily Marchwic fights her first battle in muggy, oppressive swamplands, as a new conscript in the Lascanne army. There’s a brief, inconclusive battle with their enemies, the Denlanders, who are almost impossible to see in the impenetrable murk until they are upon her and her friend Elise. Emily, shocked to the core by her up-close contact with death and killing, flounders away with her unit when they retreat, leaving dead on both sides behind in the swamp.

From here we flash back three yea... Read More

The Graveyard Book: Even the dead characters seem alive

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Reposting to include Skye's new review:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Ignore the YA label slapped on this one if that gives you pause. Though that won’t be hard to do because The Graveyard Book opens with a hand in the darkness holding a knife wet with the blood of almost an entire family: father, mother, and older child. The knife lacks only the blood of the toddler son to finish its job. Luckily for the reader (and the boy) he escapes into a nearby cemetery where a mothering ghost convinces the cemetery community to protect him. Another reason to ignore the YA label, or better yet, to revel in it, is that Neil Gaiman’s YA-listed material is stronger than his adult work: tighter, more focused, more intense all around. All that holds true here and The Graveyard Book’s clarity and brevity, often seen as constraints in ... Read More