The Human Division by John Scalzi
The Human Division is a fast-paced roller coaster of a book. At the Nebula Awards this weekend in San Jose, California, John Scalzi politely informed me that this was the fifth book in a series, which starts with Old Man’s War. I haven’t read the other four (which I will be correcting soon) but I understood pretty well what was going on in this universe, although I may have missed some nuance.
The Colonial Union left earth to colonize space about two hundred years ago. During that time, space-faring humans met several other races who didn’t like humans very much. They also met some who did, or were at least willing to trade with us. From Earth, the Colonial Union recruited people over the age of seventy to create soldiers, decanting them into younger bodies with enhanced features like “smart blood” and a BrainPal computer in their skulls. Earth is also the source of the c... Read More
Marion DeedsOn FanLit’s staff since March 2011
MARION DEEDS iis retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within.
Her favorite fantasy authors include John Crowley, Catherynne Valente, China Mieville, Felix Gilman, Kate Griffin and Ursula LeGuin. High fantasy, sword and sorcery, new weird, urban; it doesn’t matter, she likes it all. Reading Andre Norton as a child inspired her to write herself.She prefers books with complex, accessible characters, beautiful language, and something new to the genre — but she’s also willing to kick back with a good urban fantasy now and then. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.
The Human Division by John Scalzi
The Red Plague Affair by Lilith Saintcrow
It is never easy to start a series with a sequel, and The Red Plague Affair is the sequel to the first book in Lilith Saintcrow’s BANNON AND CLARE series, The Iron Wyrm Affair, which introduced these characters. (The Damnation Affair is a related novel set in the same world with different characters.) I haven’t read The Iron Wyrm Affair, but The Red Plague Affair was still pretty accessible. Saintcrow takes the steampunk London we love and creates a different, almost mythological spin.
The 19th century city where these stories take place is called Londinium, and it is ruled by Queen Victrix, who is a human but also the Vessel for Brittania. Brittania is the deity or spirit of the land, who rules through a human agent. Emma Bannon is a Prime Sorceress, trained in the college of sorcery, and her arts are those of the Endor... Read More
Triton by Samuel R. Delany
Samuel R. Delaney wrote Triton in 1974, but it was published in 1976, after his best-seller Dhalgren. Delany’s subtitle for this book was “An Amorphous Heterotopia,” and he stated at the time that the book was inspired by (or a response to) Ursula LeGuin’s “ambiguous utopia” The Dispossessed. Oh, how I wish that I had re-read that book instead of picking up this one.
Delany is a brilliant observer of humanity. I like what I have read of his memoirs and essays. I enjoyed The Fall of the Towers and Read More
Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger
Audrey Niffenegger’s Raven Girl is a slim book that straddles categories. I thought it would be a graphic novel. It isn’t, quite. At 75 pages, I’d call it an illustrated novella. Niffenegger, in her Acknowledgments, calls it a new fairy tale. It certainly has fairy tale aspects, especially a “happy ending” that arrives almost out of nowhere, but it goes beyond traditional fairy tales. The book, Niffenegger tells us, was based on a story she created for the Royal Ballet in London, for a new ballet. If I had to pick a word for Raven Girl, I might choose “fable.”
“There once was a Postman who fell in love with a Raven,” the story begins. The postman is middle-aged, lonely and bored. He knows every step of his route in suburban London, and “… yearned to have an adventure, but suspected that he probably wouldn’t.”
In this suspicion, ... Read More
Reaper’s Legacy by Tim Lebbon
Reaper’s Legacy is the second book in Tim Lebbon’s young-adult paranormal adventure series Toxic London. In London Eye, someone released a strange serum or toxin called Evolve into London, two years earlier, a day now called Doomsday. Millions died. The world has been told that the entire city is a poisoned wasteland, cut off from the rest of England, but within the city, the survivors are changing, mutating, developing paranormal abilities. Jack is searching the deadly ruins of the city to rescue his mother and sister; while his friend Lucy-Anne, aided by the enigmatic boy Rook, seeks her missing brother in Hampstead Heath. Lucy-Anne has precognitive dreams, and as the book opens she is haunted by a dream that ends with a nuclear mushroom cloud engulfing London.
I have not read London Eye, but I think I picked up what was going on pretty eas... Read More
The Exiled Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
But the real battle was with himself. All the battles that really mattered were with yourself.
Jon Courtenay Grimwood ends The Exiled Blade, book three in his Acts of the Assassini series, with a spectacular three-act battle, and a wedding. This is a pleasing, sad, and haunting ending to his alternate history fifteenth century Venetian tale, where political intrigue and martial prowess function side by side with shape-shifters, demons and magic.
At the end of the second book, The Outcast Blade, Duchess Alexa, Regent of Venice, had prevailed over Duke Alonzo and was preparing to have him exiled. Giulietta and Tycho, the demon-orphan hero of the trilogy, were together, and were happy. It didn’t seem like there was anywhere left for the third book to go, but by page 36 Grimwood has pulverized Giulietta’s and Tycho’s chances for happin... Read More
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon
[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]
It’s 1999. In January, the Jewish enclave in Sitka, Alaska will revert to the US government, and the Jewish community that settled there in 1948, when an attempt to create a Jewish state in Israel failed, will once again be cast to the four winds, homeless. This isn’t even the plot, really, of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. The plot revolves around a murder mystery, the death of a man in the same Single-Resident-Only hotel that the main character, police detective Meyer Landsman, has lived in in since the collapse of his marriage.
With The Yiddish Poli... Read More
The Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock
In 1971, Michael Moorcock published a trilogy called Nomad of the Timestreams. Titan Books is reissuing this series. The first book, The Warlord of the Air, introduces us to Oswald Bastable, a captain of the 53rd Lancers in 1902, who, through a bizarre occurrence is hurled into 1973 — a 1973 that is very little like the one our history books, or Wikipedia, tell us about.
Moorcock is an excellent writer, and in The Warlord of the Air he set out to create a late Victorian/Edwardian pastiche. At this, he succeeded brilliantly. Except for the politics and the use of actual historical figures, The Warlord of the Air reads as if it flowed from the pen of H. Rider Haggard, Arthur Conan Doyle or Rudyard... Read More
Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
There was a boy called Odd, and there was nothing strange or unusual about that, not in that time or place. Odd meant tip of a blade, and it was a lucky name.
Neil Gaiman’s charming children’s story, Odd and the Frost Giants, opens with that bit of information. In spite of his name, Odd has not been very lucky lately. His father, a woodcutter, died during one of the village’s sea-raids. Later, Odd, trying to cut wood himself, badly injured his leg. Now he walks with a limp. His mother is remarried to a village man with many other children who does not care for Odd, and winter shows no signs of abating this year. One night, Odd slips out of the great hall, takes a side of salmon and one of his father’s axes, and runs away to his father’s woodcutting cottage in the wintery forest — and here, his adventure begins.
Gaiman introduces Norse my... Read More
With the Night Mail: Two Yarns About the Aerial Board of Control by Rudyard Kipling
I didn’t know that Rudyard Kipling wrote steampunk, especially since that moniker didn’t exist during his lifetime. Kipling’s novellas “With the Night Mail” and “Easy as A.B.C.” have airships, vaguely defined etheric power sources and more energy weapons than you can hit with a stick. He may not have written steampunk, but he might be one of its literary grandfathers.
Written in 1905, “With the Night Mail,” narrated in the first person by a young journalist, chronicles the flight of Postal Packet 162, the dirigible charged with delivering the mail from London to Quebec. Crossing the ocean, Packet 162 encounters a super-storm that tests the strength of the airship and the capabilities of its crew.
The Aerial Board of Control, a “semi-elected, semi-nominated body of a few score persons of both sexes,” manages transportation, ... Read More
Shadowbridge by Gregory Frost
"One of the figures, in a long coat, leaned around from the back edge and held up a disk as if about to hand it to her. It looked like a shell strung on a necklace that, instead of circling his throat, plugged into his ears. What could that possibly be? And what legend could it be from?
The next figure above him didn’t help her, either. Painted black, with spiked blue hair, sharp-tipped ears and red eyes like flames, the figure’s identity eluded her, too."
In the first chapter of Gregory Frost’s Shadowbridge, a god animates a statue to talk to Leodora. Leodora is a wanderer, a storyteller, a collector of stories and a shadow-puppeteer who performs in male guise as she journeys along the various spans of Shadowbridge. The world of Shadowbridge itself is the greatest creation in this book.
The bridge is the world, basically, a series of spirals ... Read More
Death, the Deluxe Edition by Neil Gaiman
Death, the Deluxe Edition, was published by Vertigo in 2012. It’s a handsome book, slightly outsized (7 ¼ by 11 inches), perfect bound with a hard cover, dust jacket and matte black endpapers. The cover has a collage look, filled with shades of black and shell-pink, with Death in profile. The spiral tattoo below her right eye is prominent, and her hair sweeps in a curve like a wing.
All the stories in Death, the Deluxe Edition were written by Neil Gaiman. This collection includes the following stories, most of which are reprints:
"The Sound of her Wings" -- artwork by Mike Dringerberg and Malcolm Jones III
"Façade" -- artwork by Colleen Doran, Malcolm Jones III and Todd Klein
"A Winter’s Tale" -- artwork by Jeffrey Jones and Jon J Muth Read More
The Cats of Tanglewood Forest by Charles de Lint
From its charming dustcover to the muted two-page illustration at the end, The Cats of Tanglewood Forest is a beautiful book that I would love to read with, or to, a child. Charles de Lint and artist Charles Vess form a perfect collaboration here, with a wonderful, magical story for middle readers.
This novel is an expansion of de Lint’s novella, The Circle of Cats. De Lint uses as inspiration many of the Appalachian folk-tales, most prominently the strange old story about the King of the Cats, but stays close to his own roots, yarning about the old magic and new magic that imbues the American continent. Lillian is a little girl, an orphan, who lives with her aunt on a farm at the edge of the Tanglewood. Lillian plays in the woods; she scatters scratch for the wild birds after she’s fed the chickens, leaves saucers of milk for the feral cats ... Read More
The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson
The Emperor’s Soul is a stand-alone novella by Brandon Sanderson, set on the same world as the MISTBORN trilogy but in a different society. The story moves briskly and Sanderson’s prose is graceful and lively as always. It’s a pleasant way to spend a few hours.
Shai is a Forger — a person who can magically change the nature of an object (or a person) by changing its history. When the Emperor Ashravan is left in a coma following a failed assassination attempt, Shai, who was imprisoned for Forging, is drafted into an impossible assignment. She must re-create the Emperor’s soul before anyone discovers that he is brain-dead as a result of the attempt. And she faces an impossible deadline: ninety-eight days, which is the time period the Emperor is said to be in seclusion following the death of the Empress.
Shai must also dodge the treachery of ... Read More
Earth Girl by Janet Edwards
Earth Girl is the first book of Janet Edwards’s planned EARTH GIRL trilogy. On her website, Edwards reports that both Amazon.uk and Kobobooks have rated the e-book version of Earth Girl as among the Best YA of 2012. I can see why people would like this book, but it was a miss for me.
Edwards has a great concept here. Five hundred years into our future, most humans have left Earth to colonize various sectors of space. In rare cases, some children born on other planets are unable to survive there. They must be sent through the portals back to Earth within a few minutes, or they will die of anaphylactic shock. On earth, these Handicapped, as they are called, are raised and educated in group institutions, assigned a Professional Mum and Dad who are each available to them two hours a week, and are free to pursue a fully paid-for education. The colonists in other sectors, howev... Read More