SFF Reviews

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Sword of Destiny: More great WITCHER stories

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Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

Sword of Destiny is the second story collection in Andrzej Sapkowski’s WITCHER books which are the basis of the popular video game. Sword of Destiny should be read second in the series. (This is confusing because the English translations of the WITCHER books were not published in chronological order.) I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first WITCHER book, The Last Wish, and was eager to read Sword of Destiny. It did not disappoint. I love Sapkowski’s hero, a man named Geralt of Rivia who... Read More

Monsters: Some competition for Dagora

Monsters directed by Gareth Edwards

Fortunately enough for me, I first saw Gareth Edwards' 2010 sci-fi debut, Monsters, as a middle-aged adult, rather than when I was a kid. Decades back, any monster movie that didn't deliver the titular creature within the first 1/2 hour would invariably leave me very restless; even the great '50s shocker The Giant Behemoth was pooh-poohed by me back then for withholding its initial glimpse of the film's radioactive brontosaurus for "too long." (Hmmm ... maybe this partially explains why I STILL consider The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms — in which we see the monster in the film's first 10 minutes and regularly thereafter — the greatest such film ever created.) So what would I have made of a film like Monsters, in which, despite that title, we don't get a good, solid glimpse of the alien creatures until the picture's FINAL 10 minutes, and never get to see them in open daylight? Not much, I'm ... Read More

SFM: Hodge, Chiang, Vaughn, Ryman, Simmons

Short Fiction Monday: There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about. 


“More Full of Weeping Than You Can Understand” by Rosamund Hodge (2010, free at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, 99c Kindle magazine issue)

Violet always knew she was different: she's unable to feel deep concern or love for others, whether it was her kitten that died or her Grandmama. So she isn’t too surprised when a tall pale woman with huge butterfly wings appears to her and tel... Read More

The Witch-Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom: A strange yet oddly forgettable film…

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The White-Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom directed by Jacob Cheung

I'm always in the mood for a good wuxia-fantasy, and The White-Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom has everything you'd expect from the genre: a noble hero, a sprawling plot, a number of gravity-defying action scenes, and an enigmatic woman at its heart.

Based on the novel Baifa Monü Zhuan by Liang Yusheng, the story is set in the last days of the Ming Dynasty, a time in which China is threatened by both foreign invaders and internal corruption. Famine spreads across the land, but a woman known only as Jade Raksha helps the starving people by attacking soldiers and stealing supplies.

From the Wudang Mountains journeys a man called Zhuo Yihang, chosen by his people to deliver the Emperor's medicine to the palace. On the way he gets caught up in the political machinations of his country when he cro... Read More

Twilight Zone: Shadow and Substance by Mark Rahner, Tom Peyer, and John Layman

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Twilight Zone: Shadow and Substance by Mark Rahner, Tom Peyer, and John Layman Illustrated by Edu Menna, Randy Valiente, Rod Rodolfo, Jose Malaga, and Colton Worley.

Twilight Zone: Shadow and Substance is a large (250 pages) collection of, well, new Twilight Zone stories in graphic form. Or maybe “newish” might be better, as several have deliberate (I’m assuming) echoes of classic Twilight Zone tale, and most have, at least in my mind, a bit of a retro feel to them. I’m not sure this element however is as intentional, leaving many of the stories feeling more than a little predictable and stale. I suppose, for those who don’t read often in the genre o... Read More

Death’s End: Truly epic finale to the THREE-BODY trilogy

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Death’s End by Cixin Liu

Listening to Cixin Liu’s THREE-BODY trilogy reminds me of those graphics on cosmology that illustrate our relative scale in the universe. It starts with the microscopic world of individual atoms and molecules (or even subatomic particles like quarks and neutrinos), expands outward to individual cells, organisms, and larger creatures, then jumps out further to continents and the planet Earth, zooming back to encompass our solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and then pulling out further to an endless sea of galaxies that make up our universe. But Liu doesn’t stop there. He’s just gotten started, really. After all, there are more universes out there, and we’ve only mentioned three dimensions so far.

This review will contain some mild spoilers for the pr... Read More

The Time Traveler’s Wife: A haunting and bittersweet love story

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The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I'm certainly late to the party when it comes to reading Audrey Niffenegger's first novel — I remember it making a huge splash when it was first published, and was astonished to flip open my copy and realise it was released back in 2003. Time certainly flies, which is an apt idiom to recall when reading The Time Traveler's Wife.

Clare meets Henry for the first time when she's six and he's thirty-six. Henry meets Clare for the first time when he's twenty-eight and she's twenty. This is made possible by the fact Henry is born with a rare genetic disease that sporadically pulls him into his past or future, often depositing him in strange locations where he's left stranded and alone.

What makes matters worse... Read More

The Saliva Tree: A tribute to H.G. Wells

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The Saliva Tree by Brian W. Aldiss

In 1966, with the 100th anniversary of H.G. Wells’ birthday approaching, Brian W. Aldiss wrote a story in tribute of one of, if not, the genre’s grandfather. The resulting novella, The Saliva Tree, distills elements of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds into a suspenseful horror story that has just the socio-political agenda ‘grandpa’ would have approved of.

Set in the late 19th century, The Saliva Tree opens with two “scientifically enlightened” young men standing in the countryside of rural England, watch... Read More

Between Light and Shadow: A prodigious study of SFF’s most elusive writer

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Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951 to 1986 by Marc Aramini

Last year I tried twice (unsuccessfully) to finish The Best of Gene Wolfe: A Retrospective of His Finest Fiction, giving up in defeat. Gene Wolfe is frequently described as one of the most brilliant SFF writers in the genre by critics, authors, and readers alike. Some fans prize his books above all others, and there is a WolfeWiki page dedicated to discussing his work. But there are also many SFF readers that are baffled and frustrated by his stories because they are packed with metaphors, literary references, and hidden themes, and require extremely close reading to understand and appreciate. So I didn’t expect to make any more attempts in the near future.

However, when the 2016 Hugo Awards... Read More

The Lazarus Effect: Readable but not memorable

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The Lazarus Effect by Frank Herbert & Bill Ransom

The Lazarus Effect (1983) is part of the PANDORA SEQUENCE that Frank Herbert wrote with Bill Ransom. The series has its origin in Herbert's 1966 novel Destination: Void, of which he published a revised edition in 1978, prior to the release of The Jesus Incident (1979), his first collaboration with Ransom. The Jesus Incident was rough around the edges, mostly because a copyright issue came up that required lots of last-minute rewriting. The Lazarus Effect was written in a less frantic fashion but, interesting enough, The Jesus Incident Read More

A Shadow Bright and Burning: Lovecraftian monsters invade Victorian England

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A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess 

In this Victorian-era fantasy, sixteen year old Henrietta Howel, who is now a teacher at the Brimthorn orphanage in Yorkshire where she has spent the last eleven years, has developed an ability to magically set things on fire. She believes this marks her as a witch or magician, who are imprisoned or put to death in England since a horrific event eleven years earlier, when a magician’s spell misfired and opened a portal in our world from another dimension. Through this portal entered the Seven Ancients, magical demons who have been terrorizing England ever since, killing hundreds of people with the help of their Familiars, humans who have been turned into their evil servants.

While magicians are vilified in British society as a result, sorcerers, on the other hand, are revered ― despite the fact that a sorcerer participa... Read More

Claimed: 3 for 3

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Claimed by Francis Stevens

At the tail end of my review of Francis Stevens’ 1919 novel The Heads of Cerberus, I mentioned that the author was now a very solid 2 for 2 with me, having loved that book as well as 1918’s The Citadel of Fear, and that I had a feeling that once I took in her 1920 novel, Claimed, that she would be an even more solid 3 for 3. Well, as I predicted, such is indeed the case, now that I have finally read her most impressive third novel. While Citadel had dealt with the discovery of a lost Aztec city and battling gods (Quetzalcoatl and Nacoc-Yaotl), and the dystopian Cerberus with a totalitarian Philadelphia in an alternate-reality future, Claimed... Read More

Kingfisher: A Camelot-type court in the modern era

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review:

Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip

Knights dress in black and ride motorcycles, sorcerers and sorceresses run restaurants, and maybe your grandpa isn’t actually crazy. Such is the world in which Patricia A. McKillip’s Kingfisher takes place. Though it may begin with a deceivingly simple quest of a young man looking for his long-lost father, Kingfisher becomes much more than that very quickly. It ends up following the stories of four young people as they navigate their changing worlds and values as well as deftly interweaving their lives in surprisingly satisfying ways. I was leery (and a bit confused) at first, but Kingfisher delivers an enchanting tale of anci... Read More

The Queen of Blood: A solid, dramatic opening to an epic fantasy series

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The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

The Queen of Blood (2016) is the first book in an epic fantasy series by Sarah Beth Durst, THE QUEENS OF RENTHIA. Durst seems to be able to write whatever she sets her mind to: YA, urban fantasy, or dark fairy tales. The Queen of Blood is a briskly-paced story that introduces us to an original fantasy world with some unusual magical powers.

Daleina lives with her parents and little sister in one of the “outer villages” in the great forests of the kingdom of Aratay. The forest is filled with nature spirits: air, water, ice, earth, fire and wood. These spirits are not friendly. Their instinct is to kill humans, but the power of Aratay’s human queen keeps them mostly in check. Sometime... Read More

Magic Binds: Wedding planning is rough when your father’s a homicidal tyrant

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Magic Binds by Ilona Andrews

Note: Some spoilers for earlier books in the series

In Magic Binds (2016), the ninth book in Ilona AndrewsKATE DANIELS urban fantasy series, Kate, a mercenary with awe-inspiring sword-fighting and magical abilities, and Curran, her shapeshifter mate and the former Beast Lord, have decided to officially tie the knot. After dealing with several obstacles to get to the home of their friend Roman, the priest of Chernobog, the Russian dark god, including a pony-sized black scorpion (“If we killed his pet scorpion, we’d never hear the end of it”), they ask Roman to marry them. Roman is absolutely delighted ― as the Black God’s priest, no one ever asks him to marry them ― and in one of the funniest running ... Read More

Daughter of Blood: The third instalment in an ever-growing fantasy epic

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Daughter of Blood by Helen Lowe

Daughter of Blood (2016), is the third book in Helen Lowe's four-book WALL OF NIGHT series, preceded by The Heir of Night and The Gathering of the Lost. It's been a while since I read the last book, so it took a few chapters to untangle the far-reaching web of characters and plotlines, but soon I was back on track and re-immersing myself into the world of Haarth.

The Wall of Night is a vast mountain range that is garrisoned by the warlike Derai clans. Made up of Nine Houses in all, the Derai defend the wall against the destructive and demonic Darkswarm — but internal strife and civil war has weakened the vigilance of the Houses, and the power of the Swarm grows stronger ev... Read More

A Window into Time: A charming SF novella

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A Window into Time by Peter F. Hamilton

Julian is 17 and, though he looks like a normal teenager and he’s a really nice kid, he’s something of a misfit. He doesn’t have a normal family life, he doesn’t have any friends, he’s a little too smart, and everyone thinks he’s strange. The weirdest part about Julian, though, is that he remembers pretty much everything that ever happened to him.

When Julian starts remembering things that didn’t happen, he decides there must be some twist in the fabric of space-time that’s causing his life to get mixed up with someone else’s. That person seems to be in danger and Julian would like to warn him but, if he gets involved, he’ll be risking his own life. However, if Julian can’t figure out how to straighten things out, without causing a time paradox, he may ... Read More

The Deadbringer: Promising debut fantasy series

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The Deadbringer by E.M. Markoff

Kira Vidal is a Deadbringer. His touch brings rot, death and destruction to anything that comes into direct contact with his skin — human flesh disintegrates, metal turns to rust. Kira can also ‘summon’ death and put flesh and life back to that which is no more.

Kira’s an orphan. As is often the case in this fantasy trope, the lone wanderer seeks his past, family and the truth of his power, and has grown in a world with ‘parental ambiguity’. In Kira’s case, his father is a mystery and his mother is dead. Kira lives with his uncle Eutau in the north of Moenda, a region ruled by The Bastion. The Bastion exists in an unsteady peace with the large militaristic entity in the south known as The Ascendency — a political entity with a very cold-war-Soviet vibe.

Rookie author E.M. Markoff shows herself more th... Read More

The Best of Gene Wolfe: Challenging, allusive, and tricky stories

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Editor's note: Stuart originally posted a review of this book in December 2015. This is a new version of the review.

The Best of Gene Wolfe: A Retrospective of His Finest Fiction by Gene Wolfe

I decided to tackle this collection for a third time, this time armed with Marc Aramini’s Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951 to 1986, an 826-page analysis covering Wolfe’s output through 1986, including most of his short stories (no matter how obscure) along with The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Peace, Free Live Free, and The Book of the New Sun. It is truly a work... Read More

Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee

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Reposting to include Tim's new review.

Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee

Batman: Hush (2002-2003) is a story arc that appeared originally as Batman #608-619. I first saw it as a bound collection at Barnes & Noble when my daughter was shopping for Christmas presents. I knew nothing about internal chronology, but I picked it up and was just stunned by the glossy, dynamic, sensual and powerful artwork of Jim Lee. This guy is really something else, I can understand why he is so popular.

Before reading Batman: Hush I did m... Read More

Shazam! by Geoff Johns

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Shazam! by Geoff Johns (writer) and Gary Frank (artist)

Shazam! was told in short installments in the back pages of The Justice League, in issues 7-11, 0, 14-16, and 18-21. As his story progressed, he was eventually added to the primary Justice League story. In other words, by issue #21, Billy Batson, as Shazam, was a member of the Justice League and the short installments were no longer needed. However, DC has collected all these installments into this single trade collection, a wonderful stand-alone volume. Shazam! by Geoff Johns is THE Shazam book I’ve always wanted to read: It gives a great introduction ... Read More

The Underground Railroad: A moving, substantive, mature work of fiction

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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead’s new novel, The Underground Railroad, is a brilliantly realized blend of magical and literary realism that grabs one hard at the start and rarely lets go. The magical aspect appears via Whitehead’s decision to make the railroad literal as opposed to a metaphor and in the way he has his protagonist Cora journey through an alternate history version of the South. The literary realism is seen in his searingly graphic depiction of the slave trade in all its gruesome aspects. The end result will linger some time in the reader’s mind, leaving an indelible impact.

The novel opens with a painfully vivid description of three generations of female slaves, ending with a focus on 16 or 17-year-old (like many slaves, she doesn’t know her age or birthday) Cora, whose mother Mabel abandoned h... Read More

The Book of Speculation: Doesn’t quite come together as expected

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Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

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.

The Book of Speculation, by Erika Swyler, is one of those perplexing novels I come across now and then where the book has everything I would usually lap up as a reader, but for some reason it falls just a little flat, resulting in a book that is "good enough," but falls short of the great read I would normally have expected.

In this case, the specific enticing nove... Read More

The Broken Kingdoms: Adventure and tragedy

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The world has changed over the last several years and the opportunities that are now possible are too hard for Oree to resist, so she left home to seek a new life in Sky. Oree is an artist with a gift for seeing magic, but magic is the only thing she can see. She has set up shop in a promenade section of the great city and has created a pleasant life for herself there amongst friends and Godlings. Things start to get ugly, though, when Oree stumbles upon a dead Godling. The gods have become angry and the religious factions are looking for someone to blame. Oree’s unique abilities and proximity to the crime make her a prime suspect.

When I read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms I was taken completely by surprise. It was one of those rare moments where I read a book ... Read More

Of Sand and Malice Made: A fine introduction to Çeda and the city of Sharakhai

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Of Sand and Malice Made by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Of Sand and Malice Made is a prequel to Bradley P. Beaulieu's 2015 novel Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, introducing the teenaged main character, Çeda, along with her best friend Emre, and aspects of the desert city of Sharakhai they call home. Çeda is a pit fighter, and Beaulieu writes her training and fight scenes well, conveying action and Çeda's thoughts during the fights in brisk prose. The primary impetus for the plot is that a demon-like creature called an "erekh," which can take on various human guises in order to go unnoticed, has taken a sudden interest in ... Read More