Ryan Skardal

On FanLit’s staff since September 2010

RYAN SKARDAL teaches English literature. He currently lives in New Jersey with many piles of books, several poorly behaved cats, and his wonderful wife.

Night Watch: You can’t repeat the past (Of course you can)

Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

Sam Vimes of Ankh-Morpork’s City Watch has all but arrested Carcer, a serial killer who specifically targets members of the Watch, when they are thrown back in time.

Time travel is always inconvenient, but it is particularly trying for Sam Vimes, who is about to become a father. Worse, Vimes soon realizes this time in Ankh-Morpork’s history is especially awful because the city is about to revolt against the Patrician, Lord Winder. The people will revolt, Vimes remembers, and cavalrymen will put them down.

Vimes had only just joined the Watch when he first lived through the revolution, but he remembers many of the details, especially his old mentor, Sergeant John Keel. Keel taught Sam how to be a copper, a... Read More

The Fifth Elephant: The Watch goes to Uberwald

The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett

Lord Vetinari is dragging Ankh-Morpork and its City Watch into the modern age, but not everyone is happy. Now, instead of just leaving their carriages on the street, people that stop traffic and business will have to watch as a troop of trolls hauls their carriage away (unless they can afford to bribe Sergeant Colon). And although many of Ankh-Morpork’s dwarfs still cling to the old ways, others have begun to act radically: female dwarfs like Cheery Littlebottom not only admit that they are women but have also begun to wear… dresses!

Times are changing, but crime continues. Commander Sam Vimes and his team discover that a replica Scone of Stone has been stolen. The Scone is a Dwarf a... Read More

Jingo: Veni, vidi… Vetinari

Jingo by Terry Pratchett

Sam Vimes has changed a great deal since he was introduced in Guards! Guards!, the first DISCWORLD novel to feature the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork. He has given up booze, he is happily married, and he is now wealthy. The Watch has grown under his leadership as well. Its ranks now include werewolves, gargoyles, dwarves, trolls, and even zombies. As Commander, Vimes should devote most of his time to paperwork, but he prefers to spend his time on the streets, which have grown restless.

War is at hand. Tensions begin when Solid Jackson and his son discover an island rising out of the sea while they are fishing for Curious Squid. Both Ankh-Morpork and ... Read More

Monstrous Regiment: If you’re looking for grief, look to the ladies

Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett

“If you’re looking for grief, look to the ladies”

Borogravia is at war with Zlobenia, and the war is going badly for the Borogravians. Polly has stayed home to run her family’s pub, The Duchess, while her brother Paul has been away at the front. It’s been weeks since Polly has heard from her brother, and she worries that since women cannot inherit property in Borogravia, her family might lose The Duchess if her brother is lost. Besides, there’s no one else left to enlist, so young Polly decides it’s time to join the army. Unfortunately, given that women in Borogravia are not allowed to own property, it is no surprise that they are also prohibited from enlisting in the army. Polly disguises herself as a boy and signs on with Sergeant Jackrum’s Ins and Outs. In order to fit in, Polly practices belching, picking her nose, and scratching herself.

She joins the regiment... Read More

The Last Continent: No worries in Australia, Mate

The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett

In The Last Continent, Terry Pratchett sends Rincewind and the Unseen University wizards to Xxxx (Fourecks), which, the narrator explains, is not Australia.

In Interesting Times, Unseen University wizards inadvertently sent Rincewind to the Counterweight Continent (China), and now they inadvertently travel into the past of Fourecks — the Last Continent being created on the Discworld — while trying to figure out the Librarian’s name. Ponder Stibbins is the first to realize that the wizards have traveled into the past, and he warns the wizards that they must be careful to not change the future. Certainly, they must not kill one of their ancestors. But why would they want to do that? interrupts Ridcully. The Archchancellor argues that they’re already in the past, changing things, so the changes have already happened. And so a continent is created. The wizards meet t... Read More

Burning Paradise: Strong stand-alone Sci Fi

Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson

Members of the Correspondence Society have discovered an extra-terrestrial entity, which they refer to as the “Hypercolony,” in the atmosphere. The Hypercolony secretly monitors and subtly alters terrestrial transmissions in order to maintain peace on Earth. A few skirmishes aside, they have been successful, and humanity is once again celebrating the anniversary of the 1914 Armistice Day.

Earth may be a paradise, but it would be a mistake to consider the Hypercolony a benevolent entity. Its algorithms guide it to intervene in a way that will maximize its own chances for survival, a drive that makes it seem symbiotic. However, when the Hypercolony discovered the Correspondence Society in 2007, it sent agents — sims — to eliminate the threat. The “sims” — short for “simulacra” — look like humans, though an autopsy will reveal that they lack autonomy and also that they have a vegetati... Read More

A Hat Full of Sky: With great power….

A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett

Tiffany is not convinced when her peer Annagramma explains that magic is a power that signals one’s status. In Annagramma’s view, the witches study arcane and obscure subjects in order to set themselves apart from society, and all of the other young witches seem convinced by her reasoning. Tiffany may not admit it, but she is insecure about her status among the young witches. Secretly, she wishes to reveal her power to them. The hiver understands Tiffany, and when it takes over her mind, Tiffany makes her wishes come true.

In A Hat Full of Sky, Tiffany travels to join her new mentor, Miss Level. Like all old witches, Miss Level is a unique sort. She has two bodies, and a spirit named Oswald cleans up around her cottage. Miss Level may be strange, but she has a kind heart, and she takes care of her villagers. Tiffany’s lessons are going well, though she does not like to wear black, she h... Read More

Steelheart: Trigger-happy YA

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart is a young adult novel, it has a post-apocalyptic setting, and it’s about superheroes (super villains, actually). It’s like Sanderson collected the last five years of blockbuster movies and novels and condensed them into one work that could be adapted into a newer, even bigger blockbuster movie. I also think there’s video game potential.

Steelheart is not adapted from a specific comic series, though Sanderson does appear to have been inspired by some of the genre’s most popular titles. Here, a bizarro man of steel named Steelheart takes over Chicago, renames it “Newcago,” and begins a cruel reign of dominance. Steelheart is an Epic — he has superpowers like super strength and the ability to generat... Read More

Vortex: Killer butterflies, interplanetary archipelagos, and a satisfying ending

Vortex by Robert Charles Wilson

Turk Findley has been returned to Equatoria ten thousand years after the Hypotheticals took him and Isaac. Things have changed. The Ring of Worlds that was connected by the Arches remains, but the societies that once traveled between these interplanetary portals have died away and been replaced. The Earth, sadly, is a wasteland. Its oceans are too acidic and its air is too poisonous to support life. Unfortunately, when the Hypotheticals connected Earth to other worlds, humanity began importing oil from Equatoria, which boosted the economy but destroyed our planet.

Now, however, Turk is recruited by Treya, a member of the Vox. The Vox is a limbic democracy (as opposed to a cortical democracy) where everyone has a chip in their neck that connects them to the Network... Read More

Horrible Monday: The Long Walk by Stephen King

The Long Walk by Stephen King

Ray Garraty, Maine’s own, lives in a near-future dystopian America where boys enter an annual game, the Long Walk, in which the winner is given anything he wants. The winning boy must walk at four miles per hour longer than any other boy in the competition. Boys whose pace drops below four miles per hour are given a warning, which they can lose after an hour of at-pace walking. Boys that collect three warnings, however, receive their “ticket,” a bullet.

The Long Walk was originally published under Stephen King’s pseudonym, Richard Bachman, in 1979. Bachman’s true identity was exposed in 1985, and King has since rereleased the novel with an introductory essay “The Importance of Being Bachman.” King explains that Bachman was a voice that he hoped could articulate the “place in most of us where the rain is pretty much constant, the shadows are always long, and th... Read More

Wintersmith: Among Pratchett’s best work

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett

The older witches warn Tiffany Aching not to join in the dark Morris dance, but the soon-to-be-thirteen-year-old, who is usually so sensible, suddenly finds that she cannot resist her feet’s urging. Swept away in the heat of the moment, the young witch joins the magical dance before anyone can stop her.

She afterwards learns that she has danced with the Wintersmith. Winter himself becomes fascinated with Tiffany, whom he mistakes for the summer goddess. When the snow begins to fall, Tiffany discovers that every snowflake looks like her and that the Wintersmith is trying to become a man so that they can be together in a permanent winter. She soon learns that her feet have become fertile, and they now cause plants to grow wherever she walks.

Put less metaphorically, Tiffany has begun to notice boys, she has begun to act rashly, and she is learning to accept responsibility. Since she is a witch in ... Read More

Feet of Clay: Golems, vampires, and succession

Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett

The City Watch is growing, and its new members bring new skills and talents to help stop crime in Ankh-Morpork. Angua, a werewolf, can trace criminals by their smell, while Detritus, a troll, interrogates suspects by “screaming angrily at people until they give in.” Cheery Longbottom is Vimes’ newest recruit, an alchemist, and perhaps the only dwarf in Ankh-Morpork who does not enjoy rowdiness. The criminals had better be careful.

In fact, the Watch has become so effective that the rich and powerful are hiring assassins to kill Commander Samuel Vimes. Fortunately, now that Vimes is married to the wealthiest woman in the city, he can afford the best crossbows and bear traps.

Sadly, even the most effective City Watch armed with the most powerful crossbows and bear traps would struggle to stop all crime in a city like Ankh-Morpork. A golem has begun to kill people, someone has attempted to poi... Read More

Warp: Lev Grossman’s first novel

Warp by Lev Grossman

Hollis Kessler has just finished college, and now he’s coasting. He has neither purpose nor direction and can only tie everything he sees into a pop culture web of references. When he sees a woman, for example, he and his friends will immediately tell her what famous woman she resembles. The first woman they see looks like Denise Crosby, who played Lieutenant Tasha Yar in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Hollis and his friends otherwise spend most of their time together gossiping about what jobs and internships their peers have gotten while waiting for something more interesting than their web of pop culture references. Unfortunately, Hollis is becoming increasingly distracted by his memories when he spends time with his friends. Though Star Trek might be his favorite touchstone, even “The House o... Read More

Men at Arms: The Watch is Growing

Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett

Odd though it may be, most people agree that Ankh-Morpork is a city that works. Its citizens pay dues to the Thieves Guild so that they will not be robbed, and because the city’s leader, Havelock Vetinari, was a member of the Assassin’s Guild, there is little chance that he will be overthrown through assassination. (The assassins would of course kill Vetinari, but the price they have listed for his head is prohibitive). The guilds all agree that they would be worse off without Vetinari, which is odd considering that he seeks to modernize almost every aspect of the city.

He even believes that the City Watch should represent every species in Ankh-Morkpork. Angua, a werewolf, seems like she might fit in: she’s so beautiful that Carrot thinks criminals will line up to be arrested by her. However, now Sergeant Colon and Nobby Nobbs are training trolls and dwarfs. Unfortunately, dwarfs and trolls hate each other... Read More

Axis: Obsessed with the transcendent forces of the universe

Axis by Robert Charles Wilson

Earth has now been surrounded by the mysterious spin barrier that slows time relative to the rest of the universe for decades. Extra-terrestrial forces have also built the Arch that connects Earth to a series of unknown and increasingly environmentally hostile worlds. Humanity is now colonizing the first new world, but they still wonder about what beings — the Hypotheticals — could have created the spin barriers around these planets, not to mention the arches that connect them.

There are intergalactic forces at work in Axis, Robert Charles Wilson’s sequel to Spin, but the story is grounded in Lise Adams’ quest to discover what happened to her father. He went missing without any trace when she was young. She attracts Turk Findley, a frontier pilot, to her cause and together they journey into the desert in search of Dr. Avram Dvali, who may be able to tell her what happene... Read More

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