5

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

The Sandman (Vol. 2): The Doll’s House

The Sandman (Vol 2): The Doll’s House by Neil Gaiman (author), Illustrated by Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli, & Steve Parkhouse, Todd Klein (letterer) 

"If you leaf through the series, you'll find either an image of a heart or the word HEART in virtually every issue. Hearts are a major part of what Sandman is about."     ~Neil Gaiman (interview with Hy Bender)

Gaiman's words should be kept in mind as one continues to read what is essentially a horror comic. As we peer into the abyss, Gaiman makes sure we know we are not alone. I think Gaiman always offers hope through the possibility of human connection, often established through the power of telling stories. Keep these words of hope in mind as I summarize some stories that sound solely horrific; my overview can be misleading since I'm trying not to give spoilers. Assume the missing spoilers are often the essential moments in the stories when Gaiman... Read More

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories: Presents all the flavors of life

Reposting to include Bill's new review:

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Ken Liu is a writer of many talents, all of which are on full display in his first short story collection, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. Each of the fifteen pieces presented here is well-executed; many don’t have happy endings (as much as I would like them to), though Liu makes the best choices possible for the tales he’s telling, and I will admit that the end results frequently left me crying or stunned. He brings characters to life and makes you care about their situations, whether his fiction is based in historical fact or speculation upon a potential future. Despite the fact that these are all short works, dialogue is well-written, plots arc nicely, and character motivations ring true. Liu displays a remark... Read More

Ash: A Secret History: One of the most important books in the genre

Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle

I have long had a debate in my mind about the place of the woman warrior in fiction, particularly the type most often presented in epic fantasy/sword & sorcery. Robert E. HowardJoe AbercrombieGeorge R.R. MartinDavid Gemmell, and Tobias Buckell, for example, have all included the undaunted, sword-wielding, occasionally bra-defying warrioresses in their tales of adventure and battle. But in these stories, the women are most often just men with breasts. A distracting veneer is lacquered on the character: she is sexuali... Read More

Central Station: A snapshot of a strangely familiar time

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 throughout the solar system. Humans, robotniks, children who live and breathe the virtuality known as The Con... Read More

Sandman (Vol. 1): Preludes and Nocturnes

Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Sandman (Vol. 1): Preludes and Nocturnes (Issues 1-8): Neil Gaiman (author), Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, and Malcolm Jones III (artists), Todd Klein (letterer), Karen Berger (editor)

[This essay is the second in an ongoing series on THE SANDMAN: This lengthy essay-review is for those who want a more thorough introduction than is offered in our shorter overview of the entire series. I recommend reading that one first, particularly since it contains no spoilers and it gives a good sense of what THE SANDMAN is for those who don't know what it's about. When I can, I avoid giving spoilers, but I can't avoid them altogether since I'm going over every story arc in the series. My main goal is to increase the enjoyment of those who want to tackle this masterpiece by calling attention to significant recurring themes, giving information about some of the allusions, and providing any other relevan... Read More

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

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, both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. The same holds true here, with mostly clear analogues to time peri... Read More

The Antelope Wife: Dark, sad, beautiful and funny

The Antelope Wife by Louise Erdrich

In 1999, Louise Erdrich’s book The Antelope Wife won the World Fantasy Award. Erdrich is not a genre writer; she is firmly planted in literary territory, even if she and her husband did write romance novels under a pseudonym to pay the bills early in their marriage. The Antelope Wife is not a fantasy book. It is a beautiful, dark, sad, funny story, filled with magic and mythology, weaving Plains Indian and Ojibwa myths into a modern-day tale about a large and complicated family in 1990s Minnesota.

From the two cosmic twins who open the book, beading with dark and light, with milky white beads, the indigo beads and the dark red beads with white hearts, and whose threads and sinews comprise the lives of humans in the world, twins loom large in The Antelope Wife. We have several sets throughout the stor... Read More

The Stand: The biggest, baddest tale of the apocalypse

The Stand by Stephen King

Stephen King's The Stand is an awesomely epic creation. It's good versus evil writ large across the American landscape. It's heavy, detailed, and extremely rich in the characterizations of its people and themes. The story is familiar — an apocalyptic virus is accidentally (and inevitably) released from a government lab. Over 99% of all human life is wiped out by what becomes known as Captain Trips. This story is about those who survived.

The survivors are polarized around two god-like characters that magnetize individuals through their dreams. Mother Abigail Freemantle, a 108-year-old woman from Hemingford, Nebraska draws those with inherent goodness. Randall Flagg, from nowhere and everywhere, draws those with a slightly more dubious nature.

The story of Read More

How Great Science Fiction Works: A college course for science-fiction fans

How Great Science Fiction Works by Gary K. Wolfe

For years I’ve been a fan of the GREAT COURSES audiobooks, which I usually pick up at my library or at Audible. These are a series of college-level lectures devoted to a specific topic and delivered by an expert in the field. A couple of months ago they released a set called How Great Science Fiction Works. Our teacher is Gary K. Wolfe, a professor of Humanities who received a BA in English from the University of Kansas under the tutelage of science fiction writer James E. Gunn and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Chicago. Wolfe (no relation to Gene Wolfe) is well known in the fantasy and science fi... Read More

Grimm’s Fairy Tales: An all-star cast narrates a new audio version

Grimm’s Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimm

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, popularly knows as The Brothers Grimm, were German academics who, in the early 19th century, studied, compiled and published hundreds of folklore tales that have become an integral part of Western culture. They published their first edition of tales, titled Children's and Household Tales, or just Grimm's Fairy Tales, in 1812 and many editions have been published since.

Listening Library has just released a new audio version of 21 of the Grimm Brothers’ original fairy tales (not to be confused with the cleaned-up versions they later published as more suitable for civilized children). It’s narrated by a full-cast that includes some of the best and most popular readers in the business.

Here are the stories and narrators:

“Rapunzel” read by Katherine Kellgren
“Cinderel... Read More

Lois Lane: Double Down: A worthy successor to Fallout

Lois Lane: Double Down by Gwenda Bond

Building on the successes of 2015’s Lois Lane: Fallout, Gwenda Bond takes everything that fans loved about that book and throws even more entertainment into its sequel, Lois Lane: Double Down. Excellent friendships? Check. An online romance between two people who respect one another and view each other as friends above all else? Check. Hard-nosed investigation of nefarious dealings, sprinkled with a dash of shadowy criminals? Check. Mysterious and possibly crackpot sightings of a flying man? Check. You don’t need to have read Fallout to enjoy Double Down — Bond does a great job of making sure there are allusions to the first book while letting the second stand on its own feet — but reading the books in sequen... Read More

Thriller: One of the scariest TV shows of all time

Thriller

Viewers who tuned into the new Thriller program on NBC, on the night of September 13, 1960, a Tuesday, could have had little idea that the mildly suspenseful program that they saw that evening — one that concerned a male ad exec being stalked by a female admirer — would soon morph into the show that author Stephen King would later call "the best horror series ever put on TV." The first eight episodes of Thriller came off as hour-long homages to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which it immediately followed in the 9:00 slot; solid enough episodes of murder, intrigue and suspense, to be sure, with a touch of film noir at their heart. In the face of scathing reviews and poor viewership, however, the program brought in a new production team and drastically rebooted its image, gearing itself now more toward supernatural horror and crime melodramas; indeed, epis... Read More

Blindsight: Mind-blowing hard SF about first contact, consciousness

Blindsight by Peter Watts

This is ‘hard science fiction’ in the truest sense of the term — hard science concepts, hard-to-understand writing at times, and hard-edged philosophy of mind and consciousness. Peter Watts aggressively tackles weighty subjects like artificial intelligence, evolutionary biology, genetic modification, sentience vs intelligence, first contact with aliens utterly different from humanity, and a dystopian future where humans are almost superfluous and would rather retreat into VR. Blindsight (2006) is also a tightly-told story of an exploration vessel manned by five heavily-modified post-humans commanded by a super-intelligent vampire, and a very tense and claustrophobic narrative that demands a lot from readers. If that sounds like your kind of book, you’ll find this is one of the best hard science fiction books in the last 10 years.

I try to avoid using the... Read More

It: Stephen King’s best

It by Stephen King

Stephen King's It is a wonderfully sweeping tale of what it means to be a child and what it means to leave your childhood behind, inevitably and mostly forgotten, when transforming into an adult. This very evocative tale of childhood orbits and surrounds a tale of exquisite horror, and is my favorite of the 25 or so King books I’ve read.

It story takes place in King’s old fictional haunt of Derry, Maine, and focuses on two time periods — 1957 and 1984 — where a group of friends, as children and then as adults, form a magnificent bond to battle foes both natural and supernatural. One member of this group frames the story well:

My whole pleasant life has been nothing but the eye of some storm I don't understand.

An eye ... Read More

The Everything Box: Truly, deeply, madly hilarious

The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey

With The Everything Box, Richard Kadrey has made himself at home in the territory occupied by Christopher Moore. And by “made himself at home” I mean he’s kicked in Moore’s door, settled down on the couch, drunk all the booze, eaten all the chips and reprogrammed Moore’s DVR. Now Kadrey is looking across the hall where the Pratchett and Gaiman novel Good Omens lives, and saying, “Yoo-hoo, anybody home?”

Comic novels are hard, and for some reason science fiction or fantasy comic novels are even harder. There’... Read More

Sleeping Giants: Sci-fi thriller debut is one of the best of the year

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Sylvain Neuvel’s Sleeping Giants honorably borrows from notable films — Pacific Rim, The Iron Giant, and the Indiana Jones series — in this creative take on first contact in a contemporary world of shadowy government operatives, high tech archaeology, and mystery-shrouded alien technology.

Rose Franklin was the little girl who fell into the mysterious metal hand. Years later, with a physics Ph.D. in hand, Dr. Franklin is appointed to lead the investigation into the metal object.

The story itself is compelling: very few details emerge about the hand other than its bizarre physical makeup; when lightly irradiated, the metal glows; it’s clearly nothing that humans could make. But what is it? Is the hand just a hand ... or is there more?

Enter the mysterious ‘manipulator’. A not-quite-government/not-... Read More

The Exorcist: Deep, dark, literate horror

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

Sometimes I wish there weren't so many amazing books to read. Because every once in a while I come across a book so intricate, so subtle, and so intense, that without a second, slower, read, I know there is zero chance that I capture a true understanding the book in its entirety.

William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist is that kind of a book. It's creepy, crude and scary. On more than one evening while reading in bed, I found myself half jumping across the room only to find the cat poking his head through the door to see if it was breakfast time. One morning on my bus ride into work, I almost elbowed a poor woman in the head, so throughout engrossed I was in Blatty's deeply affecting novel.
What looked like morning was the beginning of endless night.
The Exorcist, which Blatty converted into the screenplay of the wel... Read More

Can’t Get No by Rick Veitch

Can’t Get No by Rick Veitch

Rick Veitch is one of the best comic book artists and writers most people have never heard of. I’ve already reviewed one of my favorite books of his, Shiny Beasts, a collection of short stories. He also worked with Alan Moore on Swamp Thing, and he’s sort of what Alan Moore would be if he were primarily an artist, I believe. Consider this little plug for Rick Veitch’s Can’t Get No: “. . . supremely, magnificently strange, and like nothing else I’ve read.” And that’s from Neil Gaiman, author of Sandman and ma... Read More

The Secret of Platform 13: Delightful, fantastical fun

The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson

Eva Ibbotson is a well-loved children’s author, and it is books like The Secret of Platform 13 that make me glad that I have no qualms about reading beyond the confines of suggested age groups. In fact, I find the experience particularly indulgent.

As a quick prologue, I note that some people have made much of the similarity between Ibbotson’s Platform 13 at Kings Cross Station and the one used by J.K. Rowling, Platform 9 3/4. I don’t have much to say on the subject, only that the books are very different in most other ways and honestly, it’s not worth getting excited about.

With that said, I can get on to the important things.

Once every nine years a secret door c... Read More

Red Mars: This is where we start again

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

When the First Hundred arrive on Mars, they find a beautiful red planet that’s all but untouched by humanity. What should they paint on this amazing canvas?

The question turns out to be very political, and the discussion of politics in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars perhaps begins with ecology. The relationship between people and their environment is introduced when the Martian settlers consider whether they should change the red planet to suit human needs. Ann Clayborne maintains that they should change Mars as little as possible. After all, science is about observation. Sax Russell, on the other hand, argues that “science is creation” and that they should begin terraforming Mars as rapidly as possible because it “adds life, the most beautiful system of all.” Sax’s argume... Read More

Adulthood Rites: A human-Oankali child is torn between two species

Adulthood Rites by Octavia Butler

Adulthood Rites (1988) is the second book in Octavia Butler’s XENOGENESIS trilogy. It continues the story of Lilith in Dawn (1987), a human woman revived by the alien Oankali centuries after humanity has mostly destroyed itself with nuclear weapons. The Oankali offered humanity a second chance, but at a price — to merge its genes with the Oankali, who are ‘gene traders’ driven to continuously seek new species in the galaxy to combine their DNA with, transforming both sides in the process.

10 years after the events of Dawn, Lilith has given birth to a son named Akin, the first male ‘construct’ to be born to a human woman. There are number of distinct groups in this newly reborn Earth – Oankali who d... Read More

SAGA Volume Four, Issues 19-24

SAGA Volume Four, Issues 19-24 by Brian K. Vaughan (author) & Fiona Staples (illustrator)

Saga is one of those series that is so wildly popular, like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, or The Sopranos, that you start to worry how the writers can maintain its high quality. Can they keep up the momentum, originality, artistic integrity, and entertainment that make the series so special? Or will they hit a wall and produce a total stinker of an ending, like Lost, or just fade into mediocrity like Glee. I’m so invested in the characters and world-building that it would be a tragedy if things headed south. So I’m glad to report that Read More

Version Control: Will probably be my favorite book of 2016

Version Control by Dexter Palmer

“Knowledge is a big subject. Ignorance is bigger... And it is more interesting.” ~Stuart Firestein

Dexter Palmer’s Version Control is my kind of science fiction. I loved every moment of this book. The story is set in the near future and focuses on Rebecca Wright and her small circle of family and friends. Rebecca, who drinks wine at breakfast and works from home as a customer service agent for an online matchmaking company called Lovability, is married to Philip, an ambitious physicist. Early on we realize that the couple has recently suffered a tragedy that affects their relationship. Rebecca’s best friend Kate is a slightly unstable woman who has an on-again off-again relationship with Carson, a postdoc in Philip’s lab. Alicia, another postdoc, seems abrasive a... Read More

The Winged Histories: This book is great, but don’t take my word for it

The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar

I was going to review Sofia Samatar’s book The Winged Histories, her companion novel to 2014’s A Stranger in Olondria, by simply saying, “This book is great, but don’t take my word for it; go read it.” Then I realized that not everyone will feel the way I feel about The Winged Histories. Instead of saying, “This book isn’t for everyone,” I’m going to aim this review at the people I do think it’s for.

Who are you? Well, here’s who you probably are:

If you liked A Stranger in Olondria for its vivid descriptions, its sense of a unique world, and its appealing characters, you will like The Winged Histories. You do not have t... Read More

SAGA Volume Three, Issues 13-18

SAGA Volume 3, Issues 13-18 by Brian K. Vaughan (author) & Fiona Staples (illustrator)

This highly original space opera romance is incredibly popular, and for good reason. Anyone who has read Saga Vols 1 & 2 will undoubtedly be fans of star-crossed lovers Alana & Marko, who come from opposing sides of a galactic war, Marko’s sharp-tongued mother Klara, freelancer assassin The Will and his lie-detecting cat, and Marko’s ex-fiance Gwendolyn. Not to mention the difficult-to-hate Prince Robot IV and all the other bizarre creations of Vaughan and Staples. The authors have continued to breath life into their fresh, genre-bending blend of space opera, romance, family drama, and chase amid a galactic war tale with an amazingly effortless sense of humor. What I like most about this series is their willingness to go off on weird story tangents without losing the momentum of the larger story.

Witho... Read More