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Fool’s Assassin: The perfect balance of ingredients

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb's FARSEER series well earned its current classic status, and any serious reader of fantasy had to be thrilled to hear that Fitz, one of the genre's most beloved characters, would be returning in a new series. I certainly was. But I was also curious, and, I confess, a bit nervous, about how her evolution in storytelling, especially as displayed in her SOLDIER'S SON and RAIN WILDS series, might play out in a long-delayed return to an old favorite. After all, in those works, I had to admit that said evolution — which I described as Hobb seemingly "exploring just how much plot she needs in her novels to actually have a ‘story,' as if she’s feeling her way to as quiet and minimalist a style (in terms of action, not language) as possible" — had left me thinking she had carried the experiment (if such it was) a bit too far for my liking. So what would ... Read More

Between the Gears by Natalie Nourigat

Between the Gears by Natalie Nourigat

I feel like I lucked out finding Between the Gears by Natalie Nourigat: I generally don't find myself looking for non-fiction sequential art, though I've certainly read enough to have favorites. What piqued my interest was a description of the book that let me know it's a year-long autobiographical comic of her senior year at the University of Oregon in 2010. Since I earned my PhD in English Literature from the U of O in 2000, I was extremely interested in seeing Eugene, Oregon through her eyes. However, if the book had been merely of personal interest, I wouldn't bother to write a review. I think it's a fascinating work that will be of interest to anyone who likes reflective coming-o... Read More

Letter 44: Escape Velocity by Charles Soule & Alberto J. Alburquesque

Letter 44 (vol one): Escape Velocity by Charles Soule and Alberto J. Alburquesque

I've just found a real gem in my stack of books to review: Letter 44: Escape Velocity by Charles Soule is a must-read for science-fiction fans. Saga by Vaughan is the first current comic title I usually recommend to fans of SF. Luckily, I now have another current title to recommend right along with Saga. Letter 44: Escape Velocity has equally compelling character development and perhaps even ... Read More

The Left Hand of Darkness: An important thought experiment

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

Given science fiction’s near infinite palette of available colors, it was bound to happen one day. Thankfully, Ursula Le Guin was the one. The idea: androgynous humans. Winner of several awards, the social significance of science fiction has never had a stronger proponent than The Left Hand of Darkness, the meaning of gender never so relevant to mankind.

Genly Ai is an envoy sent to the planet Gethen to convince the nation of Karrhide to join Earth’s Ekumen (a politically neutral organization supporting the dissemination of knowledge, culture, and commerce). What he encounters are the native Gethens, an androgynous people who go into kemmer once a month, physically adapting to the features of any mate they encounter during that time. Mixed up in the local politics is Estraven, a Gethen Genly meets as part of his inter-planetary task, and the two sub... Read More

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew

The more I read by Gene Luen Yang, the more I am impressed. Like many people, I first learned of his work through American Born Chinese; however, I liked The Eternal Smile with Derek Kirk Kim just as much if not more. I also enjoyed his Level Up with Thien Pham. This newest work, The Shadow Hero, is another brilliant graphic novel, and Sonny Liew's art is perfect for telling the st... Read More

Eifelheim: An elegant First Contact story

Eifelheim by Michael Flynn

Eifelheim is an interesting take on the First Contact story. This one takes place in the Middle Ages, as an alien ship crash lands in the Black Forest of Germany near the small village of Oberhochwald. Tied in to this tale of the past is one that takes place in the present as two researchers (and lovers) try to solve the mystery of the disappearance of the village of Eifelheim (once called Oberhochwald) from recorded history and the implications this may have on their separate fields of study.

I found the tale in the past to be the more compelling of the two, though they do work well together as a whole. Flynn does an excellent job of bringing to life a realistic Middle Ages that doesn't look sneeringly down on the "superstitious savages" of that age. All of the characters we meet in Oberhochwald are fully developed people, none of whom are simply "good" or "bad." In many ways it is actually they, and ... Read More

Prince of Fools: Pure awesomeness

Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

Prince Jalan Kendeth is the black sheep of the family. A self-confessed untrustworthy scoundrel and coward who has taken every advantage of the life of luxury that comes with being royalty, he is perfectly content with his life as it is and has no plans to change or inclination for greater things. However, when he crosses paths with a courageous Viking named Snorri, Jal discovers that he may have been destined to stand against an undead evil. Snorri is returning north to rescue his family and, despite his unwillingness, Jal is bound by mystic forces to accompany him.

For those (like me) who are already die-hard Mark Lawrence fans, Prince of Fools, the first book in the RED QUEEN'S WAR series, is just what we expected — pure awesomeness and then some. But for those of you who found Jorg of Lawrence’s BROKEN EMPIRE TRILOGY too bloody hard for your tastes, give ... Read More

Sailing to Byzantium: Move it to the top of your to-read stack

Sailing to Byzantium by Robert Silverberg

I just finished listening to the audio version of Sailing to Byzantium. It was read convincingly by Tom Parker, who transported me in time along with Charles, the lead character. Charles is from New York City, and he is a twentieth-century man, a curiosity in the world of the story. His 1984 is long gone, yet he doesn't quite understand how he's been transported in time to the 50th century. The people of this time, the "citizens," will tell him very little actually. They consider Charles to be a "visitor." Charles doesn't know how long his visit will be though. He is confused and tries to go with the flow, but keeps finding it hard to do so in this very odd future world.

In the 50th century ("of what," he wonders at one point), there are very few citizens. There is a small world population compared to 1984 (and especially compared to our time). All the citizens look almost identical — ... Read More

Moonhead and the Music Machine by Andrew Rae

Moonhead and the Music Machine by Andrew Rae

I've recently had the good fortune to discover comics and graphic novels published by Nobrow Press, and if you've never heard of Nobrow before, Moonhead and the Music Machine by Andrew Rae is an excellent place to start. It is a stunning graphic novel that is representative of Nobrow's highly selective catalog. Nobrow puts out high quality art books, so if you are a fan of sequential art, you'll want to get your hands on their new releases. In addition to high quality content, each book has unique dimensions that are well-suited to the nature of each individual project. As a result, the books don't look like all the ot... Read More

Map of Days by Robert Hunter

Map of Days by Robert Hunter

I've recently become a fan of Nobrow Press: They put out unique, and often small, runs of graphic novels that stand out as special works of art because of the high level of paper, binding, and printing techniques. Each graphic novel is sized differently to suit best the artwork inside, and the printing technique reminds me of William Blake's illuminated manuscripts. Each book stands out and looks and even feels unlike any comic book or graphic novel I've ever seen.  Map of Days by Robert Hunter is an excellent example of Nobrow's high standards of material and presentation of that art.
... Read More

Incredible Adventures: Savor it slowly

Incredible Adventures by Algernon Blackwood

Algernon Blackwood’s Incredible Adventures was first released in book form in 1914, and is comprised of three novellas and two short stories. The literary critic and scholar S.T. Joshi has called this book "perhaps the greatest weird collection of all time," and while I do not pretend to be well read enough to concur in that evaluation, I will say that the book is beautifully written... and certainly weird, in Blackwood's best manner.

The five pieces in Incredible Adventures are almost impossible to categorize. They're not exactly horror or fantasy tales, but they all share one thing in common: In all of them, Algernon Blackwood — lover of Nature (with a capital "N") and ever one to seek for the ultimate reality behind the surfaces of what we seem to know — gives us characters who are bettered for their glimpses behind "reality's" curtain. This is not an easy book t... Read More

Doomsday Morning: C.L. Moore’s last science fiction novel

Doomsday Morning by C.L. Moore

By the mid-1950s, science fiction's foremost husband-and-wife writing team, Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, could be regarded more as coeds than working authors. After the release of their "fix-up" novel Mutant in late 1953, the pair released only five more short pieces of sci-fi over the next five years. And while it is true that Kuttner did come out with a series of novels featuring psychoanalyst/detective Dr. Michael Gray, for the most part, the two concentrated on getting their degrees at the University of Southern California. Kuttner, taking advantage of the G.I. Bill, graduated in 1954, while Catherine Lucille, paying her own way, took things slower and finished up by 1956. And the following year, she capped off a glorious writing career with a solo SF novel, her l... Read More

He, She and It: My favorite science fiction novel

He, She and It by Marge Piercy

He, She and It by Marge Piercy is my all-time favorite science fiction novel. Though Marge Piercy is not considered a science fiction author, this work is clearly one of science fiction, particularly in the sub-genre of cyberpunk as it was shaped by William Gibson and other writers classified as "cyberpunk." Piercy, after writing Woman On the Edge of Time, was told that parts of that novel anticipated cyberpunk; when Piercy asked what cyberpunk was, she was pointed in the direction of Gibson. Piercy writes: "I enjoy William Gibson very much, and I have freely borrowed from his inventions and those of other cyberpunk writers. I figure it's all one playground." She also acknowledges a debt to Donna Haraway's fascinating essay "A Manifesto for Cyborgs."

That Piercy borrows from Gibson and others d... Read More

Dangerous Space: Gorgeous short stories

Dangerous Space by Kelley Eskridge

Dangerous Space is a revelation. I had no idea these gorgeous short stories were out there. Put me on the list of people who will now read absolutely everything Kelley Eskridge writes, because if these are characteristic of her work, I want it all.

Eskridge often makes creativity her subject, writing movingly about various forms of art, especially music. The opening story, “Strings,” posits a world in which the classical composers are revered so completely that any deviation from their scores, note by note, tempo by tempo, is punishable by loss of employment, and apparently by loss of the right to make music at all. Master musicians are named for their instruments, so that the world’s best violinist is known only as “Stradivarius,” the best pianist as “Steinway.” Being an instrument carries with it great prestige and wealth, but the musician who is cursed with an imaginatio... Read More

The Goblin Emperor: A beautiful world and even more beautiful protagonist

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

A few weeks ago I finally finished with revisions to my dissertation and rewarded myself with a read of The Goblin Emperor, the first book published under the name of Katherine Addison (the pen-name for Sarah Monette, accomplished spec-fic author).

It’s been a while since I experienced such pure undiluted reading enjoyment. I was thrilled on every page that this book even existed, and even more excited that Katherine Addison is ... Read More

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