5

Click on stars to FIND REVIEWS BY RATING:
Recommended:
Not Recommended:

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

Dying Inside: Inside the mind of a mind reader

Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg

Although author Robert Silverberg had come out with no fewer than 21 major science-fiction novels between the years 1967 and '71, by 1972, his formerly unstoppable output was beginning to slow down. He released only two novels in '72, The Book of Skulls, in which four young men seek the secret of immortality in the desert Southwest, and one of his most renowned, Dying Inside. After this latter work, there would be no full-length works until 1975's The Stochastic Man and 1976's Shadrach in the Furnace, which work put an end to Silverberg's famous "second phase" ... till he came roaring back four years later with the commencement of his Majipoor cycle. The novel in question, Dying... 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

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.
Read More