Zodiac: The Eco Thriller by Neal Stephenson
Sangamon Taylor is a professional asshole, he is known as the granola James Bond, and he knows how to use your child’s aquarium to filter PCBs from his body. Zodiac: The Eco Thriller is Neal Stephenson’s second novel as well as a clear blueprint for its successor, the cyberpunk classic, Snow Crash.
Sangamon Taylor works for GEE, an activist group that tries to act as a check against the toxic waste Boston industrialists dump into Boston Harbor. GEE, whose members are often English majors and leftover hippies from the sixties that care about the environment, man, stages media events and organizes non-violent civil disobedience. They are well meaning, but they really rely on Sangamon, their trained chemist and impromptu engineer, to collect and analyze samples of toxic wast... Read More
Ryan SkardalOn FanLit’s staff since September 2010
RYAN SKARDAL teaches English literature at the high school level. He currently lives in New Jersey with many piles of books, several poorly behaved cats, and his wonderful wife. Ryan has been reading fantasy since junior high when he first borrowed Stephen King‘s The Eyes of the Dragon from the library. His high school years were largely spent reading about a Wheel of Time. Recently, his favorite author is China Mieville. An English teacher, Ryan is required to read a wide variety of writing, but always makes time for swords and sorcery.
Zodiac: The Eco Thriller by Neal Stephenson
A Man and His God by Janet Morris
In A Man and His God, by Janet E. Morris, Tempus brings his Sacred Band of Stepsons to Sanctuary, a city in the midst of preparations for war. Tempus is a tough man to kill, one who has watched severed limbs return as his god, Vaschanka, heals him. Though their relationship is not always so smooth that he can afford to take Vashanka’s intervention for granted, Tempus is one soldier that Prince Kadakithis cannot afford to offend as they prepare to improve Sanctuary’s defenses.
For some fantasy readers, the presence of a sacred band alone will be reason enough to seek out A Man and His God, a novella that was first written in 1981 and that is now being rereleased. The Sacred Band of Stepsons is an elite band that has appeared in THIEVES’ WORLD, a shared universe that has attracted writers like ... Read More
Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks
Iain M. Banks’s Use of Weapons is the third CULTURE novel. For those not in the know, the Culture is an intergalactic paradise run by its extremely sophisticated machines. Its people are augmented so that they are able to control and enhance every function their body serves. Life in the Culture is pretty great, and so stories are rarely set there.
Fortunately for Banks, things occasionally get a little hairy on the distant edges of the Culture when it is forced to interact with other societies. When those moments of contact go poorly, the Culture relies upon Special Circumstances to figure things out.
Enter the drone Skaffen-Amtiskaw, the Special Circumstances agent Diziet Sma, and Cheradinine Zakalwe, our hero and their agent on the ground. Before Special Circumstances recruited him, Zakalwe was a soldier on a distant world. Usually when someone writes “enter the ... Read More
Spin by Robert Charles Wilson
With Spin, Robert Charles Wilson has condensed every science fiction novel into one book.
It’s quite an accomplishment, really, though the novel begins innocently enough. We’re in the near future with our narrator, Tyler Dupree, who is injected with a strange cure somewhere in Sumatra. The drug produces side effects, and one of them compels Tyler to tell his life’s story.
Tyler grew up in the little house “across the lawn.” His mother, Carol, cleaned the house of the Lawton family while Tyler played games with their children, Jason and Diane. Jason, a genius, is groomed to take over his father’s vast fortune. Their father, E.D, neglects Diane. Tyler envies Jason and Diane their fancy bicycles and their wealth. Even as a child, he always loved Diane.
One night, Tyler, Jason, and Diane are sitting on the lawn looking up at the stars. And t... Read More
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War War by Max Brooks
In World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, Max Brooks provides an oral history of the global conflict against the undead. In the introduction, the narrator explains how this account focuses on the human element rather than just the statistical details of World War Z. The text shifts from the experiences of one survivor to the next.
The history begins in China. Dr. Kwang Jing-shu recalls when he encountered the “Patient Zero,” a child, and the early responses to the child’s illness. The zombie plague spreads across China, and before long human traffickers are explaining in their interviews how they brought the infected to the rest of the world. At first, people do not know what they are dealing with, and they refer to the disease as rabies, and later as “African Rabies.” Israel and South Africa develop strategies for response faster than many othe... Read More
The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks
The Player of Games is the second of Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels. Jernau Morat Gurgeh is a famous game player from the protective, machine-run Culture. Like everyone else that lives in the Culture, Gurgeh has never known fear, pain, or greed. He wants little beyond the thrill offered by the games and the respect he earns from winning them until he meets Mawhrin-Skel, a drone that blackmails Gurgeh into traveling to the distant Empire of Azad and representing the Culture in a tournament.
The Empire of Azad is founded upon the principles and consequences of its game, Azad. Title and status are dependent upon one’s performance in the game, as is political influence. Advanced players are required to register their political and ethical stances, which are reported to the rest of the civilization. Though Azad provides a stable structure that has guided the Empire through the ag... Read More
Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks
Consider Phlebas, the first of Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels, introduces readers to the Culture, a machine-led intergalactic civilization that offers its biological humanoids a carefree, utopian lifestyle. Though most centuries are free from worry, Consider Phlebas takes place in the middle of the Idiran-Culture War.
The Culture is an intergalactic utopia, but readers should not come to Consider Phlebas expecting dystopian narrative. The machines, led by their brilliant and sentient Minds, are benevolent and they seek to offer a paradise to the humanoids in their care. The novel is not even a dystopian narrative in the way Thomas More’s Utopia often seems disturbing in its stringent rules and guidelines. Readers are meant to envy life in the Culture.
The Culture is perfect, or almost, but the universe is not. The Culture... Read More
Snuff by Terry Pratchett
Snuff is Terry Pratchett’s latest DISCWORLD novel to feature the City Watch. Well, actually, the City Watch is largely absent. Lady Sybil, insists that she and Commander Sam Vimes take their son, Young Sam, to the countryside for a vacation.
The vacation begins smoothly. Vimes and his family retreat to the country, where Vimes encounters Sybil’s well-to-do peers. Vimes hobnobs, or tries to, but he finds the nobility a bit stuffy. Still, he is the Duke of Ankh and does not want to disappoint Sybil, so he tries to fit in. The awkwardness of these exchanges makes up the much of the humor of the novel’s opening scenes. The rest of the humor in the novel consists of Young Sam’s enthusiasm for “poo,” a word that Young Sam and Pratchett can’t get enough of in Snuff.
Vimes has moved up in the world, ... Read More
The Gunslinger by Stephen King
Stephen King’s The Gunslinger is a post-apocalyptic Western-fantasy hybrid about the gunslinger Roland Deschain and his pursuit of the man in black across a desert.
At first glance, the Western plays the largest role in The Gunslinger. Roland carries two heavy six shooters with sandalwood handles, and he can fire them both with deadly accuracy. He wears a duster, leads a pack mule when we first meet him, and is chasing his quarry across a seemingly endless desert. So it is not surprising that King cites The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as an influence in his introductory essay “On Being Nineteen (and a Few Other Things).”
The Western may be the more prominent inspiration for Roland, but his quest would make any author of epic fantasy jealous. It is not Read More
The Walking Dead, Volume 1: Days Gone Bye by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore
In his introduction to The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman explains that the best zombie stories feature waves of blood but also come with strong undercurrents of social commentary. If the back of this graphic novel is to be believed, Kirkman will explore how “in a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.”
Kirkman mentions George Romero’s zombie movies in his introduction, but his take on the zombie is more than homage to Romero’s movies. While Romero’s zombies often satirize our consumer culture, Kirkman’s undead are presented in contrast to our complacent “lifestyles.” The walking dead literally hunger for life, while most of Kirkman’s readers, it seems, merely endure it.
So it is no surprise that “Days GoneBye,” the first story in The Walking D... Read More
Cell by Stephen King
In The Stand, Stephen King basically wrote the book on contemporary post-apocalyptic settings. However, one of the few things that 1000+ page novel missed was zombies. King corrects that omission in Cell, a novel in which cell phones turn users into zombies.
Unlike in The Stand, King wastes no time assembling his heroes. Clayton Riddell, who is, of course, from Maine, writes graphic novels. Clay barely has a moment to enjoy his first big break in publishing before the world is ending after the “pulse.” Amidst the ruin, Clay meets Tom McCourt and Alice Maxwell, and they flee Boston together.
Their quest is to survive and to save Clay’s wife and child. It takes them north until they finally reach a prep school — a way station where Clay and his companions will regroup and figure out how to procee... Read More
The System of the World by Neal Stephenson
The System of the World combines the final three “novels” — Solomon’s Gold, Currency, and The System of the World — of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. The novel’s title refers to the third volume of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica.
Most people remember Isaac Newton today because of the Principia Mathematica. In it, Newton explains the universal law of gravitation and the laws of motion. However, by the end of Newton’s life, he devoted his time to theology, alchemy, and running the British Mint. Readers that missed Isaac Newton’s presence in The Confusion will be happy to see him back, and more dramatically back than ever. He has transformed from an odd but brilliant scientist into... Read More
The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
The oceans have swallowed the world’s coastlines. Although the Chinese have adapted to the new world – they have even built “Island Shanghai” – the American state has drowned beneath the rising tides. Now, only tattered American flags and decrepit skyscrapers remain on the coast, and the American government is a thing of the past. In spite of past efforts made by Chinese peacekeepers, adolescent refugees Mahlia and Mouse now live in the “Drowned Cities,” struggling to survive amidst competing scavengers, criminals, and warlords.
Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Drowned Cities is the sequel to Ship Breaker, which won the Michael L. Printz Award in 2011. Fans will be disappointed to learn that Nailer “Lucky Boy” Lopez does not appear in The Drowned Cities. Instead, the two stories are linked... Read More
Making Money by Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett’s Making Money is the thirty sixth Discworld novel, and the second to feature Moist von Lipwig as its hero. Traditionalists will point out that Moist is not very heroic. In fact, he is a conman. Then again, in a city led by an assassin, perhaps a conman is the perfect candidate to run an institution like the Post Office. That was the premise of Going Postal, which introduced us to Moist. Although Moist’s struggle to save the post from the crooked Grand Trunk Company was surprisingly adventurous, he finds that the post office has become a bit dull after a year of smooth operation.
So we might expect Moist to be thrilled when Lord Vetinari, Ankh-Morpork’s Patrician, offers the Postmaster the chance to take over the city’s bank and mint. Surprisingly, Moist is reluctant to trust the city’s to... Read More
Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
When searching for a strong conflict to anchor a story, most fantasy authors rely on dragons, invading hordes of orcs, and universe-ending supernatural beings and phenomena. In Going Postal, Terry Pratchett tries to save Ankh-Morpork’s post office.
Oddly, by aiming lower – just saving the post office? – I felt that Pratchett had taken more of a gamble than his more bombastic peers. Then again, Going Postal is the thirty-third novel in Pratchett’s spectacularly successful DISCWORLD series, so he has little to lose. Why not write a novel about what must be the most mundane premise fantasy has ever seen?
Moist von Lipwig, our hero, is a conman and a swindler who has the good fortune of also having an utterly forgettable face. However, when we meet him, his crimes have finally caught up... Read More