Jesse Hudson

GUEST REVIEWER

After learning his letters from the names stamped on the old woodstove parked in the kitchen, Jesse Hudson’s love of the written word was born. He can still recall scouring library shelves for that HARDY BOYS he hadn’t read yet, tucking fingers between pages trying to find the longest storyline in CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE books, and of course, that first time he read the literally moth-eaten copy of his mother’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

Not a “sci-fi or die” kind of guy, Jesse reads in most fields. He proclaims a good novel is a good novel based on theme, story, and style and dislikes matrices of genre (though he admits it’s very useful wandering a bookstore). Mysteriously yet to be explained, there remains a numinous force that has drawn him to the more imaginative side of literature the past two years. Ursula Le Guin, Stanislaw Lem, China Miéville, Gene Wolfe, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and several others have all made a strong impression with their ability to unearth the root of humanity — quality prose and imaginative story their spade and bucket.

Jesse currently lives in Poland where he works for a big corporation by day and escapes into reading by night. He posts a blog which acts as a healthy vent for not only his bibliophilia, but also his love of culture and travel: Speculiction.

Inheritor: Characters and drama reign supreme

Inheritor by C.J. Cherryh

Something must be done about the art decorating the covers of C. J. Cherryh’s unheralded FOREIGNER series. No offence to Michael Whelan, Dorian Vallejo, or any other of the artists who’ve been chosen to provide cover art, but their Golden Age depictions of alien life simply do not suit the temper of the books. Shame on DAW. Cherryh writes with subtlety and sensitivity regarding intercultural relations that the comic book renderings of guns and fantasy animals simply fail to parallel. Making matters worse, the crowd willing to buy the books based on such art will more than likely end up disappointed. The books’ focus on character and societal development toward peace and cultural understanding is far from scene after scene of gun fights and explosions. Like placing a scantily clad Barbie doll with elf ears and flaming sword o... 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

Invader: Builds upon the foundation laid by Foreigner

Invader by C.J. Cherryh

While the first book in C. J. Cherryh’s FOREIGNER series, also titled Foreigner, took its time in establishing Bren Cameron’s character and the dilemmas he faced attempting to adapt to a culture entirely foreign to him, Invader wastes no time. Picking up precisely where Foreigner left off, Bren is in the hospital suffering from injuries he sustained in the previous book. Though he goes on the mend, life does not get any easier. The spaceship which suddenly appeared at the end of Foreigner threatens to disrupt the tentative peace which the treaty between the atevi and humans had created.

Pushing the ball up-court, Cherry winds Cameron’s tension even tighter in Invader. As if the ... Read More

Foreigner: A familiar culture with outstanding characters

Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh

“Sometimes the clothes do not make the man…” sang George Michael. Fortunately the cover of C.J. Cherryh’s literary sci-fi offering Foreigner can boast the same. The story contained within is (pun intended) light years from the throwback sci-fi cover. And the back cover is only slightly better than the front. The Publisher’s Weekly quote reads: “Cherryh’s gift for conjuring believable alien cultures is in full force here, and her characters… are brought to life with a sure, convincing hand.” Copy which is often overstated, and this statement is only partially true. The first part is a twisted untruth (or an insult to traditional Japanese culture), while the second part strikes the truth square on the head. In other words, ignore the publisher’s contribution to Cherryh’s 1994 Foreigner Read More

The Cadwal Chronicles: The first two books are some of Vance’s best

THE CADWAL CHRONICLES by Jack Vance

The 1980s found Jack Vance moving into his sixth decade of life. Imagination still sharp, he produced such works as the LYONESSE trilogy, the second half of the DYING EARTH saga, as well as began THE CADWAL CHRONICLES with Araminta Station published in 1989. The novel is on par with the best of Vance’s oeuvre. The second novel in the series, Ecce and Old Earth, sees only a slight decline in quality, the story furthered in fine fashion. However, Throy, the third and concluding volume, is like a different writer took hold of the script. It is dry and bland and does not come close to the bar set by the first two, but it is fortunately not bad enough to destroy the integrity of the series. THE CADWAL CHRONICLES contain all of the tropes that make Vance, Vance, and likewise mak... Read More

PLANET OF ADVENTURE: What are you waiting for?

PLANET OF ADVENTURE by Jack Vance

Of the people who pick up a book by Jack Vance, there are only two possible outcomes: those who melt over every word he writes with twinkles in their eyes, and those who bear furled brows for a time before giving up. I don’t know what to say about the latter — different strokes for different folks — but for me, Vance is sci-fi sundae with chocolate swirls. Pure genius. The number of layers his stories operate on, from humor to social commentary, pure imagination to pure adventure, are enough to keep me coming back for more and more. PLANET OF ADVENTURE, or as Vance preferred the series be called, THE TCHAI, is no exception.

The omnibus edition is a compendium of four short novels — City of the Chasch (aka The Chasch), Servants of the Wankh, (aka The Wannek), Read More

The Rise of Endymion: Great science fiction for the 21st century

The Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons

After busting through the door with a whole new Hyperion story in Endymion, Simmons returns with The Rise of Endymion to close it. Answering all of the questions and satisfying all the plot build up of the first half, Rise concludes the story in grand fashion, living up to expectations. It does, however, leave a little wanting thematically.

The Rise of Endymion opens where Endymion left off. Aenea, Endymion, and the others are in the American West recovering from the attack by the church and learning architecture from a cybrid of Frank Lloyd Wright. They are quickly separated, however, and Endymion goes on a perilous mission of which he knows not the end. Simmons upping the ante imaginatively, the dangerous and exotic events of Endymion’s life prepare him in every w... Read More

Endymion: More fabulous storytelling in the Hyperion universe

Endymion by Dan Simmons

The original HYPERION duology was a great success for Dan Simmons. It won him numerous awards and accolades, not to mention rave reviews and huge sales figures. The setting so fertile, Simmons indulged further, producing additional books typically called the ENDYMION duology. No less imaginative and visual, the pair, Endymion and The Rise of Endymion, nevertheless take Simmons’ universe in a new direction: where Hyperion focused on mythological quests for power from a base of Keats' poetry, Endymion is honed to spirituality from a personal view. The following review is for the first half of the duology.

Endymion opens by introducing the man who becomes the main protagonist of the story. The eponymous Raul Endymion hangs in space inside a Schroe... Read More

The Fall of Hyperion: A grand finale

The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Having carefully woven each strand in Hyperion, in The Fall of Hyperion Dan Simmons braids them together into a singular narrative that fantastically concludes the tale. With whip-crackling energy throughout, the fate of the Hegemony, Ousters, and the Shrike are revealed. All of the questions Simmons created — what will happen to Sol’s daughter? Will Kassad get his revenge on the Shrike? Will the Consul be able to open the time tombs? And ultimately, what is the Shrike? — are answered in more than satisfying fashion. Moreover, the mysterious disappearance of the tree-ship captain, Het Masteen, is not only explained, but fits perfectly within the framework of Hyperion to affect things as no reader could foresee. With this and other details, Simmons shows the subtlety of his story’s design, and proves himself a master storytell... Read More

Hyperion: A real treat for the imagination

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

There is space opera, and then there is Space Opera. Dan Simmon’s 1989 Hyperion is S.P.A.C.E. O.P.E.R.A. From grand schemes to the most minute of details, vivid character portrayal to imaginative and original future technology, gorgeous scenery to a multi-dimensional, motivated plot, everything works. Weaving his tale, Simmons proves a master storyteller, each of the seven tableaus presented begging to be devoured. As a result, it is virtually impossible to read Hyperion and not want to follow up with the sequel, The Fall of Hyperion. Thus, potential buyers be warned: this is only the first half of a highly engaging story.

Hyperion’s success begins with world building. Simmons put hours and hours of thought and planning into the background details of his universe and how these elements work together. ... Read More

Veniss Underground: Jeff VanderMeer’s debut novel

Veniss Underground by Jeff VanderMeer

Avoiding the trappings of fragile motifs, Jeff VanderMeer’s debut novella — err, novel — Veniss Underground shows every sign of a writer who is confident in his ability to put a fresh perspective on well-worn tropes. The framework of Veniss Underground is based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, but the setting and imagery remain wholly original. Scenery twisted like cyberpunk on acid, its details macabre to the bone — a surreal dream — VanderMeer seems poised to make a place for himself in fantasy of the 21st century.

Veniss Underground is a window of time in the lives of three characters: the twins Nicholas and Nicola, and Nicola’s ex-boyfriend, Shadrach. A far-future, unnamed city — called Veniss by Nicholas — is the setting, and technology, including genetic and biological engineering, have perm... Read More

Rendezvous with Rama: Leaves the reader humbled

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

Extension of scale is an advantage science fiction has over other forms of literature, and it’s an idea Clarke puts to best use in Rendezvous with Rama. Rather than in a three dimensional sense wherein space extends infinitely, he instead uses scale to show how humanity and its accomplishments take on new meaning when viewed from the perspective of the cosmic unknown.

Bearing strong resemblance to the writings of Stanislaw Lem, Rendezvous with Rama tells the story of earth’s brief encounter with an enormous object/spacecraft that one day in a not-so-distant future suddenly appears traversing our solar system. Obviously the work of an intelligent species, the object nonetheless appears lifeless. And when explored by a team of scientists and astronauts, more questions than answers seem to arise as Clarke’s simple yet effective prose p... Read More

The Affirmation: Literary science fiction does not get much better

The Affirmation by Christopher Priest

I’ve heard Christopher Priest’s 1981 novel The Affirmation described as regressive, an ouroboros eating its own tail, a Moeibus strip. While there is undoubtedly an M.C. Escher quality to the book — a blurring of reality — the beginning and end are simply too different to form a contiguous whole reverting back on itself. They’re opposite ends of a spectrum in fact, and the appeal of the novel is immersing one’s self in the subjective reality Priest slowly unwraps and getting lost in the world of memories as a result.

The true nature of The Affirmation requires thought; the easy part is relaxing throughout the journey. Priest patiently and precisely lays down the text — words like railroad ties on a Sunday train ride to the country — the story moving effortlessly along. The sublime prose lulls the reader into the deceivingly mu... Read More

Excession: Does anyone do far future better than Banks?

Excession by Iain M. Banks

Let’s skip the highty-flighty, atmospheric float of intros and get right to the point. Iain M. Banks’ 1996 Excession is gosh-wow, sense-wunda science fiction that pushes the limits of the genre as far into the imagination — and future — as any book has. The AI ship-minds, post-human world-is-your-oyster humanity, and incredible roster of engine speeds, galaxies, drones, weaponry, biological possibilities, planets, orbitals, etc., etc. of previous books have been topped. Banks took a look at the savory milieu of the Culture, cocked his head and asked: “How can I up the ante?” The titular ‘excession’ is the answer.

Arthur C. Clarke’s brilliant Rendezvous with Rama sees humanity attempting to quantify and understand a BDO (big dumb object) that comes sailing th... Read More

Valentine Pontifex: A worthy conclusion to Valentine’s tale

Valentine Pontifex by Robert Silverberg

In Lord Valentine’s Castle, Robert Silverberg created an exotic planet filled with peoples and landscapes, all bursting with imagination. Silverberg also gave his audience a strong, lovingly crafted main character in Lord Valentine, a man recovering after his throne was wrongfully swept out from beneath his feet. The conclusion of the tale, Valentine Pontifex, is the other side of the coin, however. How does Valentine deal with the weighty exigencies of leadership, all the while getting older? Not as fresh or original as Lord Valentine’s Castle, Valentine Pontifex is nevertheless a fair read that continues to define Silverberg’s take on science fantasy on the vast planet Majipoor.

Ten years have passed since Lord Valentine retook the throne that was rightfully his, and in the time s... Read More

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