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Batman: Year One by Frank Miller

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller

Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) completely reinvented Batman as an angry and bitter older man coming out of retirement to stem a rising tide of crime in Gotham City alongside Police Commissioner Jim Gordon. This was a dark vision of a complex and troubled soul driven to fight crime to avenge his parent’s senseless death, and it resonated with a new generation of readers and gained comics greater credibility among mainstream readers. Just one year later Miller produced a four-part story arc called Batman: Year One (1987). Th... Read More

A Criminal Magic: An early contender for our Best of 2016

A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly

In A Criminal Magic, Lee Kelly creates a world in which the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1919, banned sorcery rather than alcohol. Kelly combines remarkable creativity, imagination, and insight into the human condition, blending fantasy with history and ending up with a complex, entertaining, compelling novel.

Naturally, the passage of A Criminal Magic’s fictional amendment results in the same response as its historical analogue: sorcerers are thrust into the criminal underworld, brewing an illegal ruby-red elixir. This “shine,” as it’s known, is smuggled by gangsters into “shining rooms” across the country, fronted by legal liquor bars and raided by members of the Federal Prohibition Unit who can’t be bribed into looking the other way. Drinking shine gives reality a surreal glow, causes a wide ran... Read More

Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, 1946-1987: Introduces many lesser-known fantasy works

Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, 1946-1987 by David Pringle

Following on the success of 1985’s Science Fiction: 100 Best Novels, An English-Language Selection, 1949-1984, it made sense that David Pringle would tackle the wide-ranging and ill-defined field of fantasy with Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, An English-Language Selection, 1946-1987. It’s actually an amazing effort, since Pringle would have to read comprehensively in both genres for almost four decades, and I think it’s quite unusual for someone to do that. Moreover, though the borders of sci-fi are defined differently by each person you ask, this is even more so for the fantasy genre, which can include horror, epic fantasy, hallucinatory trips, magic realism, contemporary fantasy, and things that don’t fit any convenient categories. It’s almost impossible to narrow this do... Read More

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller (writer/artist) and Klaus Janson & Lynn Varley (Artists)

Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and Alan Moore’s Watchmen (1986-87) are generally considered the watershed graphic novels that revived and reinvented the comic book industry, forced mainstream critics and readers to take the genre more seriously, and laid the groundwork for a massive superhero movie industry eager to bring classic comic superheroes to the big scr... Read More

Penny Dreadful, Season 1: Everything you could want from Victorian Gothic Horror

Penny Dreadful: Season 1 by John Logan

If you had told me the premise of Penny Dreadful before I'd seen it, I would have probably rolled my eyes. A collection of famous characters from 19th century Gothic horror novels thrown together into an original plot? Yeah that worked SO well for Hollywood's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Van Helsing. (Not).

So the fact that Penny Dreadful manages to be compelling, thought-provoking, and genuinely interested in engaging the themes of the books that inspired it is a miracle in itself. One of its particular strengths is in throwing the viewer into a strange situation without much context as to what's going on or why. As each episode unfolds we get more clues as to who these characters are and what they're trying to achieve, but the show is content to take its time in divulging answers, and is exceptionally good at the "show, don't tell" r... Read More

City of Blades: Inspiring and heartbreaking second in series

Reposting to include Bill's new review:

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

Marion: City of Blades is the second book in Robert Jackson Bennett’s THE DIVINE CITIES series, which tells several sides of the story of a major international cultural conflict. Saypur, a civilization that has been oppressed by the Continent for centuries, rose up and subdued its oppressors by killing their gods. In the wake of the Saypuri revolution and its conquest of the Continent, all of the Continental Divinities have vanished, and magic no longer works… usually.

City of Blades, Bennett’s follow-up to City of Stairs, takes place five years after the events of the first book. Voortya, the Divinity of War, was the first god k... Read More

Watchmen by Alan Moore (writer) & Dave Gibbons (Artist)

Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

What if superheroes were real? I mean really “real”: what if they grew old and got fat, had spouses and families, carried emotional baggage (sometimes a serious psychosis), and just generally had to deal with everyday life? These super-heroes aren’t inherently all good, either. Just like public servants — police, politicians, doctors, etc. — many begin with the best intentions, but some become jaded and others are only motivated by self-interest from the start. In other words, if superheroes were real, they would be just like us, more or less.

Also, what would an ultra-powerful superhero really be like? A person who understands quantum theory as easily as we chew gum, and is so powerful that he can move through the space-time continuum, be several places at once, and alter sub-atomic structure with a mere thought? Ca... Read More

The Thief: Hits all the right notes

The Thief by Claire North

I am absolutely loving Claire North’s THE GAMESHOUSE series so far. Loving it. These are short stand-alone novellas set in an alternate version of our world where an enigmatic institution called The Gameshouse works behind the scenes to influence minor and major world events. It does this by collecting and using people as “players” and “cards.” For example, The Gameshouse may offer to help a politician win a race and, in return, that politician must make himself available as a “card” when one of the players of the Gameshouse needs to use him in the future. Nobody knows what the ultimate goals of the Gameshouse are, and most people don’t even know that it exists, but there are many players and cards who have found themselves under its dominion:
There have always been houses where ga... Read More

Steven Universe: A Feel-Good Show with Well-Drawn Characters

Steven Universe by Rebecca Sugar

Steven Universe, an episodic 11-minute animated television show created by Rebecca Sugar, is one of my new not-guilty-at-all pleasures. It tells the story of young Steven Universe and his friends, the Crystal Gems, humanoid mineral-based aliens. Steven is half-human, half-gem. His dad, Greg Universe, is a car wash owner and aspiring musician. His mom, Rose Quartz, was one of the Crystal Gems until she gave up her physical form to have a child. Steven lives in Beach City with the three remaining Crystal Gems: Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. Together they work to save the world from various alien threats. Along the way, the exuberant Steven bonds with the employees at several restaurants; local conspiracy theorists; magical and alien life forms; and the human girl, Connie, who becomes his best friend.

When I first heard about this show, I thought it sounded a bit silly. I wasn’t sure I wanted to dive into som... Read More

The Fifth Season: Displays Jemisin’s stunning imagination

Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I am awestricken by the imagination of N.K. Jemisin, but it isn’t just her wild vision of a seismically turbulent planet that makes The Fifth Season so successful. Jemisin depicts her strange and harrowing world through the old-fashioned tools of fine writing and hard work, done so well that it looks easy – transparent – to the reader.

The world of The Fifth Season, or at least one large continent of it, is shaking apart. Against this backdrop we follow three different stories set in three different time periods, one in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe, two sometime earlier. The three storylines have themes and plot points that eventually converge, but the changes in narration let us as readers put together clues and see what’s going on even before some of the charac... Read More

The Bloody Chamber: A darkly seductive collection of not-so-traditional tales

The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories by Angela Carter

Angela Carter’s style is rich and dense. Her short stories are the most sumptuous of literary feasts. In The Bloody Chamber Carter reworks a number of fairy stories and folk tales, from “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Beauty and the Beast” to “Puss-in-Boots”. But Carter never intended to do “versions”. She created brand new stories using the basic premise of the originals as her starting point. In her formidable hands the familiar elements of the tales are moulded into an altogether different beast.

The Bloody Chamber shocked when it was first published in 1979, and is certainly capable of shocking now. At their heart the stories are about sex, violence, and the reclamation of power. Carter’s beasts are disturbingly handsome in their murderous intentions. Her women are at the heart of the s... Read More

Salem’s Lot: Old school vampires, King-style

Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

Starting in 2012/2013 I started obsessing on Stephen King. I'm slowly working my way through his catalog, which means I should have a pretty full life of King left to me, right? I'm a huge fan of It, The Stand, The Shining, and I actually really enjoyed Under the Dome. I wanted more, and so I’ve gone old school with Salem's Lot.

I'm over the whole vampire thing, trust me, but I've found that King is so much more than monsters and things that go bump in the night. He is at his artistic best when turning the mundane into the profane, or peeling back the layers of what's public and private, and then igniting even the smallest evil int... Read More

Oryx and Crake: A scathing condemnation of the world we are creating

Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

In Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood details an apocalyptic plague, introduces a new species of creatures that have been genetically designed to replace humanity, and the villain is a mad scientist in love. What could be more “SFF” than Oryx and Crake?

Quite a lot, according to Margaret Atwood, who prefers to describe her novel as “speculative fiction” rather than “science fiction.” In interviews promoting Oryx and Crake, Atwood explained that everything that takes place in Oryx and Crake is based on trends that we can see today, as opposed to distant planets that have an allegorical connection to our lives. Atwood is “speculating” about where our society is headed. It’s a distinction th... Read More

The Shining: An amazing character study

The Shining by Stephen King

Stephen King’s The Shining is an amazing character study that drives mood-heavy, emotionally deep, and unrelenting literary horror. The story centers on Danny Torrance, a young boy with a unique ability, termed the 'shine.' Danny can sense the future, and communicate mentally and emotionally with his inner self and other people, alive, and sometimes less so.

Stephen King writes ‘childhood’ masterfully. He's able to tap into the emotions of youth, and create evocative realism in their thoughts, dialogue and action. Also found in his magnum opus It, King places children in extraordinary circumstances; yet still creates very realistic, thoughtful and down-to-earth reactions and behavior.

Also like It, King uses The Read More

Bone Gap: Beautiful, mythic YA

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

In order to explain why Bone Gap impressed me so much, I may have to spoil it a little. I may have to tell you that it’s partly based on one of my favorite classical myths: the story of Persephone. With the recent popularity of bad-boy love stories in YA fantasy, this myth’s been revisited more than once, but mostly these retellings have disappointed me. Spineless Persephones, boring Hadeses, little to write home about. With Bone Gap, Laura Ruby gave me a version I’m profoundly happy to have read.

Beautiful Roza was the new girl in Bone Gap; she showed up one day in the O’Sullivan brothers’ barn, and they took her in. Now, she’s missing, and the town just isn’t the same without her. Sean, the elder brother, was in love with her, and he’s certain she just up and left him behind. Finn, the younger, is just as sure she didn’t... Read More

The Broken Sword: A dark fantasy classic

The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword (1954) was selected by David Pringle in his Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, and is highly praised by Michael Moorcock, whose character Elric of Melnibone and his demon-possessed sword Stormbringer are directly inspired by The Broken Sword. The audio version is narrated by Bronson Pinchot, who has an amazing vocal range and narrates with passion.

To get right to the point, this book is amazing and deserves a much wider readership. It’s one of the most powerful, tightly-written and relentlessly-dark high fantasies I’ve ever read. It’s chock full of Norse gods, demigods, Vikings, elves, trolls, goblins, sea serpents, evil witches... Read More

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent Eric Anderson

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent Eric Anderson

Marvel’s X-Men franchise is long-running and crosses into so many different titles that it’s difficult to know where to start if you know only the movies, but want to start reading some actual comics. There are many excellent titles to start with, but the stand-alone 1982 graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills is the book I recommend for those who want the single best X-Men title that makes clear the thematic significance of the X-Men characters as outsiders persecuted for their differences.

Christopher Claremont’s story is not for those looking for light entertainment. He deals explicitly with the conne... Read More

The Anubis Gates: A very generous book

Reposting to include Katie's new review.

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

Tim Powers' fourth novel, 1983's The Anubis Gates, is a book that I had been meaning to read for years. Chosen for inclusion in both David Pringle's Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels and Jones & Newman's Horror: 100 Best Books, as well as the recipient of the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award in 1984, the book came with plenty of good word of mouth, to say the least. And, as it turns out, all the ballyhoo back when was ... Read More

Ubik: Use only as directed

Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

Warning: Use only as directed. And with caution.

Written in 1969, Ubik is one of Philip K. Dick’s most popular science fiction novels. It’s set in a future 1992 where some humans have develop psi and anti-psi powers which they are willing to hire out to individuals or companies who want to spy (or block spying) on others. Also in this alternate 1992, if you’ve got the money, you can put your beloved recently-deceased relatives into “coldpac” where they can be stored in half-life and you can visit with them for years after their death.

As Ubik begins, Glen Runciter, the head of one of New York City’s top anti-psi organizations, discovers that all the operatives of the top psi organization (whose telepathic fields they like to keep track of) h... Read More

Bubba Ho-Tep: All shook up!!!

Bubba Ho-Tep directed by Don Coscarelli

It can be a tricky balancing act, coming up with the perfect film in the genre known as the horror comedy; a picture that is hilariously funny while at the same time being truly scary. And while there is no shortage of films with a decidedly uneven ratio of horror::comedy — such as 1960's The Little Shop of Horrors, 1974's Young Frankenstein and 1975's The Rocky Horror Picture Show — such films usually come off as pure comedies, only with a horror setting. But when the balance is just right, such as in The Ghost Breakers (1940), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948, and still probably the finest exemplar of the horror comedy ever made) and Spider Baby (1964), the result can be a timeless and wonderful entertainment. To my great surprise, to this latter category must be added Don Coscarelli's Bubba Ho-Tep, which has become a deserved cult item since i... Read More

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: Running to write

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

I have just finished reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running for the fifth time. I love this book, and although I wouldn’t say it’s the greatest book ever written, it may be my favorite book ever written.

At the title suggests, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a series of essays and memoirs, mostly centering on running. However, it’s also the story of how Murakami went from running a jazz club in Tokyo to writing novels. Murakami also touches on his love of vinyl albums, his translating the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Carver into Japanese, and his love of Sam Adams beer. More substantially (for some readers) he shares his ideas about competition, aging, and rel... Read More

VALIS: Reconciling human suffering with divine purpose

VALIS by Philip K Dick

It's often said that "one must suffer for one's art." They must have been referring to Philip K. Dick. He slaved away in relative obscurity and poverty at a typewriter for decades, churning out a prodigious flow of low-paid Ace and Berkeley paperbacks (sometimes fueled by amphetamines), went through five marriages, battled with depression, mental illness and suicide attempts, all culminating in a bizarre religious experience in 1974, and struggled to come to grips with this for the next eight years until his death in 1982 from a stroke at age 54. And yet it wasn’t until VALIS (1981) and the posthumous Radio Free Albemuth (1985) that he addressed these experiences directly in fictional form.

So if you want to get inside the mind of PDK, Radio Free Albemuth ... Read More

The Book Of Skulls: A far cry from Daytona Beach!

The Book Of Skulls by Robert Silverberg

Because he has garnered no fewer than eight Hugo and Nebula Awards over the years, has been inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Hall of Fame, and has been, since 2005, anyway, an SFWA Grand Master, it might be difficult to credit the notion that Robert Silverberg might also be a writer of horror. And yet, there it is, the 55th book under discussion in Jones & Newman's excellent overview volume Horror: Another 100 Best Books; namely, The Book of Skulls, which first saw the light of day in 1972, the same year that its author released the masterly Dying Inside. Though its claims for being listed as a sci-fi novel are as debatable as its claims to being labeled horror or fantasy, the book WAS nevertheless n... Read More

The Girl Who Could Not Dream: Dreams come true… with rainbows and teeth

The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst

Monsters, glittery flying ponies, ninja bunnies and other fantastical creatures inhabit the pages of The Girl Who Could Not Dream, Sarah Beth Durst’s enchanting new middle grade fantasy adventure novel. Sophie’s parents own a secretive dream shop, where you can buy bottled dreams or ― if you prefer more frightening adventures ― nightmares. (It’s like reading a Stephen King novel, only more immersive.) Her family uses woven dreamcatchers to capture other peoples' dreams, and then her parents distill the dreams into liquid form, bottle them and sell them to customers.

Because Sophie has never had a dream of her own, when she was six years old her curiosity led her to swipe a dream b... Read More

100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso

100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello (writer) & Eduardo Risso (artist)

100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso is one of the first lengthy comic book series I read (along with Y: The Last Man and Sandman), and it remains one of my favorites, competing in its writing and art with the best that Sandman has to offer. Which one of the two series is your favorite will probably depend on what kind of genre you like best. Sandman appeals to lovers of fantasy, horror, and mythology; 100 Bullets ... Read More