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.

Virtual Light: Examines the intersection of technology and culture

Virtual Light by William Gibson

William Gibson’s SPRAWL, as seminal a trilogy of books if ever there were in modern science fiction, is a tough act to follow, let alone by the man who wrote the books. But if the series can be considered raw steel, then the follow up has to be considered the bare blade. Honing in on the present, Gibson shows no shortage of the futurological imagination and wordsmithing that made him famous. 1993’s Virtual Light, the first book in the BRIDGE series, is every bit as genius.

Virtual Light, and th... Read More

Terminal Café: An existential examination of nanotechnology

Terminal Café (Necroville in the UK) by Ian McDonald

“’Am I a ghost in a meat machine, am I God’s little seed stored in heaven for all eternity and glued one day on to a blastocyst in Mama Columbar’s womb; has this me been recycled through countless previous bodies, previous worlds, universes?’ He pressed his finger between Trinidad’s eyes… ‘This is the final frontier. Here. This curve of bone is the edge of the universe.’”

Existentialism is a main theme of Ian Mcdonald’s brilliant 1994 Terminal Café(published in the UK as Necroville). Pyrotechnic poetry blasting from the pages, the possibilities of nanotechnology have never been related in such vivid profundity. In southern California of 2063, the dead live again in this flames-and-leather cyberpunk exploration of the meaning of life and death in a world gone mad with possibility.... Read More

The Broken Sword: As dark as it gets

The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

In fantasy today it’s not uncommon to hear the words “dark” and “gritty” applied to such writers as David Gemmell, Paul Kearney, Joe Abercrombie, George R.R. Martin, or Brian Ruckley. Each is willing to kill favorite characters, portray morally ambiguous heroes, and elucidate more than one gory scene, and readers have taken a shine to their rather anti-Tolkien view. But these writers’ stories are still not as dark as Poul Anderson’s 1954 classic The Broken Sword. Bleak in outcome and tone, Anderson’s short epic makes... Read More

Griffin’s Egg: A semi-ambitious novella

Griffin’s Egg by Michael Swanwick

Michael Swanwick’s Griffin’s Egg tries as much to be retro sci-fi as it does to push the limits of the genre — or at least the limits when the novella was published in 1991. The story of a industrial worker on the moon who must deal with the spillover of violence from Earth to the point of post-humanism, Swanwick’s effort succeeds as much as it could be improved, making Griffin’s Egg at least marginally effective.

Gunther Weil is an employee of G5, one of the biggest industries mining the moon for metals and raw materials. Though working on a voluntary contract, he holds no place in his heart for the rote and plethora of bureaucracy, the rubbish strewn about th... Read More

Startide Rising: Sentient dolphins

Startide Rising by David Brin

I had never read a David Brin book before reading Startide Rising. Hearing his background was in math, physics, astronomy, etc., I went about buying one of his books with trepidation. Isaac Asimov, Vernor Vinge, Alastair Reynolds, and other popular science fiction authors may be good scientists, but they lack the touch and feel of an inborn writer and the style of their novels suffers. Though it’s prose is not glorious, Startide Rising was nevertheless a pleasant surprise.

A fun mix of hard SF and space opera, Startide Rising is a unique story that sets itself apart from derivative SF for its premise. A dolphin and human... Read More

The Blue World: More great stuff from Vance

The Blue World by Jack Vance

What’s to be said about Jack Vance that hasn’t already been said? The man is simply one of the most imaginative writers of the 20th century. His sci-fi fantasy styled adventures are deceptively simple, but the complexity of being human hides just below the surface, rearing its head in profound fashion in the middle of all the humor and fun. Vance’s 1966 The Blue World is no different.

Our hero, Sklar Hast, is an assistant hoodwink living on Tranque Float. Not a con or charlatan, Hast literally winks the hoods — in more complex Morse Code fashion — of the communicator devices located on the floats of their lily-pad archipelago, passing news between themselves. At the outset of the story, Sklar’s life is relatively simple. He sits in when the master hoodwink is away, teaching appre... Read More

God Emperor of Dune: Seems like a thematic pinnacle

God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert

Given the coarse, operatic nature of Dune’s two sequels, I was reluctant to continue the series. I thought Leto II’s rise to power was an appropriate place to leave off in the cycle despite the three sequels Herbert penned. After reviewing Dune Messiah and Children of Dune, however, someone told me that the first three novels were in fact just stage-setting for the fourth, God Emperor of Dune, and if I was to truly appreciate the series I needed to continue. Continue I did, and though I still think Dune Read More

Children of Dune: Better than Messiah, but doesn’t return to Dune’s standard

Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

Based on the polar nature of the first two books in the DUNE series, Paul’s ascension in Dune and his descent in Dune Messiah, not much would seem left to be told in the House Atreides saga. Publishing Children of Dune in 1976, ten years after Dune, Frank Herbert proved there was still more to tell, telling a solid but not spectacular tale that has some big shoes to fill if it is to live up to the success of Dune Read More

Forever Free: Nothing like the original

Forever Free by Joe Haldeman

Joe Haldeman’s 1974 The Forever War and 1997 Forever Peace were huge successes for the author, winning many of science fiction’s most prestigious awards, not to mention garnering him a solid fan base in the process. Though they share similar sounding titles and a military motif, little else between the two novels resembles the other. When it was announced in 1999 that Haldeman would be publishing a true sequel to The Forever Warentitled Forever Free, the sci-fi community was abuzz: William Mandella was returning. Opinion in the aftermath could not be more divided. Read More

Dune Messiah: Disappointing sequel

Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

Frank Herbert’s 1965 Dune was an overwhelming success, winning awards and selling millions of copies. Little did readers know, however, that it was only the beginning of the Family Atreides saga. Picking up events roughly a decade after Paul’s ascension to Emperor, Dune Messiah is the story of his descent from power. Herbert knocks the hero he created off his pedestal, so readers should be prepared for many changes in the story — and not all are for the better.

Dune Messiah continues the saga of the Atreides family in epic, soap-operatic fashion. Paul, having expanded his power to over much of the known universe since becoming Emperor in Dune, is nevertheless helpless to prevent the religious fanaticism and destruction caused by his Fremen followers, drawing the hatred and ire of the opposition in the process. Chani, now his concubine, is unable to con... Read More

The Other Wind: Ends the EARTHSEA CYCLE

The Other Wind by Ursula Le Guin

At age 84, I think it’s safe to say that Ursula Le Guin will not be publishing additional books in the EARTHSEA CYCLE. The qualities of the last book to be published, The Other Wind, particularly the subtle and cathartic value of its denouement and the state in which the main characters are left, make the extension of the Cycle beyond six books unlikely. Walking away on a high note, the Cycle is here concluded in grand style.

Unlike the personal storylines of the original trilogy, The Other Wind sees the continuation of the pattern established by Tehanu and Tales from Earthsea: groups of characters take center stage rather than individuals. All of the characters who have appeared in previous novels are drawn together. Their purpose: to eradicate the larger ills plaguing the archipelago. The dragons are uneasy and are disappearing to the west amid... Read More

Forever Peace: About empathy and understanding

Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman

Despite the similarities in name, Joe Haldeman’s 1997 Forever Peace shares nothing in common with his huge success, The Forever War, save the military science fiction motif. Winning its own accolades (the Nebula, Hugo, and John W. Campbell Awards), Forever Peace is a novel less focused on the portent of war and more on the idea of universal understanding. Not without its share of action, however, readers will find Haldeman back in The Forever War form, the novel containing both depth and entertainment.

Forever Peaceis the story of Julian Class, both scientist and operator of a mechanized robot called a “soldierboy” for the US military. By jacking in to a device that collectively links operators... Read More

Tales from Earthsea: Fills in gaps in the EARTHSEA mythos

Tales from Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

In 1972 Ursula Le Guin completed The Farthest Shore and felt the EARTHSEA series was finished at three books. However, in 1994 she published Tehanu:The Last Book of Earthsea in an attempt to revise the gender and social roles she’d laid out in that original trilogy. Based on the title, this too was supposed to be the be-all, end-all. Apparently not satisfying enough; 2001 saw Le Guin publishing two additional books in the EARTHSEA CYCLE, The Other Wind and Tales from Earthsea, that both complement and redress the original books. The former rounds out the entirety of Earthsea’s story into a nice whole, the latter is a collection of short stories that fills certain gaps Le Guin identified in Earthsea’s mythos. Here is a loose breakdown of those stories.

“The Finder” — The opening story in the collection tells of the boy Otter, his im... Read More

Beggars in Spain: Won the Hugo and Nebula Awards

Beggars in Spain (novella) by Nancy Kress

(This is a review of the Hugo and Nebula Award winning novella, which we have linked here. There is also an expanded novel.)

What if a person no longer needed sleep? How would they spend their nights? And what if there were a number of people in the same situation — hundreds who could devote their evenings’ hours to whatever they desired? And what of the society they exist within? Would it be open minded? Would it accept these people for who they are? With mixed but predominantly positive results, Nancy Kress’s 1991 novella Beggars in Spain attempts to answer these questions.

The novellaopens with the rich entrepreneur Roger Camden consulting a gene modification agency on the options available to him and his wife for the child they desire. Wanting an exceptional daughter, Camden inquires into a new gene treatment available wherein the child will never need sle... Read More

Islands in the Net: SF political thriller

Islands in the Net by Bruce Sterling

Love him or hate him, Bruce Sterling is one of the most intriguing voices in science fiction. A successful writer of fiction and non-fiction, and a speaker of the most unique and presumptuous nature, his words carry regarding the future of technology and society. At base a humanist, Sterling’s work reflects the potential implications of applying the knowledge humanity acquires to economic, ecological, and socio-political environments. Islands in the Net, a good example of his aims, presents all of these facets in a political drama/thriller that continues to touch upon ideas in today’s world despite the decades that have passed since its publishing.

Islands in the Net opens in the year 2023. The world appears much the same as it does today, but with a few small differences. Multinational megacorporations wield ever-growing clout in systems which continue to utilize capitalism... Read More

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