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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

The Discarded Image: An accessible approach to medieval cosmology

The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature by C.S. Lewis

To me, this might be C.S. Lewis' best book. I will have to cop to not really liking the NARNIA books (too allegorical, and those British schoolchildren are pretty annoying), and while I do quite like his SPACE TRILOGY, I think that Lewis was much better as a writer of academic non-fiction than he was as a fiction writer. In The Discarded Image, Lewis is able to tackle a huge subject: medieval cosmology and worldview, and bring both his wide reading and ability to make things understandable to the "common man" to the table.

In his eminently readable way Lewis starts by setting the stage, asking his audience (this was originally a series of lectures given to non-academics) to imagine a world according to the view ... Read More

The Children of Húrin:  A fresh look at an old tale

The Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkien

I am a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's work, but certainly not an expert. This means that though I've read his three seminal works: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Silmarillion, I had very little idea of what The Children of Húrin was about when I picked up a copy at the second-hand bookshop.

My memory was jogged as soon as I started reading, and I realized that the story of Turin was one I had previously come across in The Silmarillion, Tolkien's massive tome that lays out the mythology and early history of Middle Earth. However, to quote from its pages: "Here that tale is told in brief... and it is called the Tale of Grief, for it is sorrowful, and in it are r... Read More

To Open the Sky: Silverberg comes roaring back

To Open the Sky by Robert Silverberg

It shouldn’t come as too great a surprise that future Grand Master Robert Silverberg dedicated 1967’s To Open the Sky to writer/editor Frederik Pohl. It was Pohl, after all, who induced Silverberg to begin writing sci-fi again on a full-time basis, after the author’s “retirement” from the field in 1959. As then-editor of “Galaxy” magazine, Pohl (who helmed the publication from 1961-’69) promised Silverberg a greater freedom in his writing, with fewer of the literary shackles that had restrained the author till then (not that anyone would have ever realized it, based on the author’s amazingly prolific output from 1954-’59, and the very high quality of that work). But with his new license to create... Read More

Happy Hour in Hell: Rip-roaring fun containing a deeper message

Happy Hour in Hell by Tad WilliamsHappy Hour in Hell is the second novel in Tad WilliamsBobby Dollar series. While readers might enjoy and appreciate the book more if they read The Dirty Streets of Heaven first, its sequel is one of those books that can be understood and enjoyed on its own merit, too. Happy Hour in Hell is darker than its predecessor, the world expands, Bobby Dollar is a more complex character (while never losing his humorous or cynical edge), and there’s strong emotional appeal. The book as a whole benefits from this immensely.

Happy Hour in Hell starts on a rather dark, lonely note with Bobby Dollar crossing the bridge to enter Hell. This sets the tone for the whole novel, which explores the afterlife and death in a nod to Dante... Read More

The Dispossessed: A master work which stands the test of time

The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

The late 1960’s and early ‘70s was a magnificently productive time in Ursula LeGuin’s career.  Though she continued writing award-winning, successful novels, nothing matches the quality and quantity of her output in this time. The first three novels in the EARTHSEA CYCLE, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Word for World is Forest, and The Lathe of Heaven were all written then, each winning one if not more awards and flying off shop shelves. The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia, published in the middle of this stretch, rounds out the triumphant group and is considered by some her greatest achievement.

The Dispossessed is at heart the tale of Shevek and his struggle to acquire and d... Read More