SFF Reviews

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SFM: Parker, Bova, Resnick, Porter

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. 




“Amor Vincit Omnia” by K.J. Parker (2010, free at Subterranean Press, republished in Academic Exercises, a short fiction anthology by K.J. Parker)

In a world where magic is considered a branch of natural philosophy and is practiced only by a secretive group of scholars, the normal order of things is upset when a rogue magician appears and starts violently murdering innocent villagers, displayin... Read More

I Am Providence: A smart, dark, funny Lovecraftian mystery

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I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas

“On any other weekend, my body would have been discovered more quickly.” 

Panos Panossian is not the kind of a guy to let the mere fact that he is dead stop him from narrating; even if his first-person narration starts after he’s been killed, and is a faceless corpse in a cabinet in the morgue. That quote is the opening sentence in I Am Providence, a multi-genrebending novel by Nick Mamatas.

Panossian is, well, was a novelist, and a novelist in a very specific niche with a very specific fandom; he wrote Lovecraftian fiction. He was attending the annual Summer Tentacular, a Lovecraft convention held in Providenc... Read More

Imprudence: Very similar to Prudence

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Imprudence by Gail Carriger

Imprudence is the second book in Gail Carriger’s CUSTARD PROTOCOL series, a spin-off of her popular PARASOL PROTECTORATE books and related to her wonderful young adult FINISHING SCHOOL series. I didn’t love the first CUSTARD PROTOCOL book, Prudence. I thought the plot was silly, the humor was too often forced, and the romance was dull. However, I loved the audiobook narration by the amazingly talented Moira Quirk, so I was happy to give the sequel, Imprudence, a try.

In this instalment, Prudence (Pru) and the crew of her dirigible, The Spotted Custard Read More

The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman & J.H. Williams III

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Editor's note: Won the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story

Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman & J.H. Williams III

Most monthly comics come out, well, monthly, but DC decided to drag out The Sandman: Overture and release it every other month, and that seemed reasonable given how long it takes for J. H. Williams III to create his exquisite artwork. However, the comic ended up taking a full year longer than announced — from October 2013 to October 2015. After the first three issues, I quit reading because I just couldn’t stand the anticipation. As of this ... Read More

The Brass Giant: Beautiful images and a disappointing main character

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The Brass Giant by Brooke Johnson

At the beginning of Brooke Johnson’s steampunk fantasy-romance novel The Brass Giant (2015), Petra Wade, our protagonist, is a strong-willed young woman with a driving desire: she wants to be an engineer. Specifically, she wants to attend the University and Engineers Guild, which does not admit women. Petra, an orphan, has learned clockwork from an elderly shopkeeper, but her talent for engineering is far beyond that, and she thirsts to use her ability to improve the world.

Emmerich Goss is a wealthy, good-looking University student with copper-colored eyes, and he asks for Petra’s help powering his automaton, which is distinctive because it responds to controls that are manipulated remotely. Eager to prove herself, Petra agrees to disguise herself as a boy and sneak into the University to help him, but soon... Read More

The Obelisk Gate: The weight of history crushes the present

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate is the second in N.K. Jemisin’s BROKEN EARTH trilogy and the follow-up to her Hugo Award-winning The Fifth Season; expectations were understandably high for this installment, which promises to shed a little more light on The Stillness and the qualities that make its geology and its people so unique. The Obelisk Gate is compulsively readable, filled with characters and circumstances that will transfix the reader’s attention, and effectively picks up right where Read More

Harpy’s Flight: Robin Hobb’s first novel

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Harpy's Flight by Megan Lindholm

Harpy's Flight (1983) is Megan Lindholm's first novel and the first of a series of four starring the characters Ki and Vandien. I understand that at one time, Lindholm had plans to write more but that never happened. Given the success of Lindholm's writing under the pen name Robin Hobb, I very much doubt it ever will. Lindholm’s novels are very different in style and tone from Hobb’s novels. I love both the epic fantasy of Hobb and the more diverse output of Lindholm, but that is certainly not true for all readers.

Ki is out for revenge. A pair of Harpies have taken her husband and two young children and despite the fact that they can easily take her as well, she is determined to make them feel her loss. Against all odds, Ki survives the climb to the Hapries' la... Read More

Tom Swift and His Flying Lab: The series that introduced me to sci-fi

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Tom Swift and His Flying Lab by Victor Appleton II

What was the first science fiction novel that you ever read? For a long time, the answer to that question, for me, would have been Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 classic Childhood’s End, which Mr. Miller, back in high school, made us all read for English class. (A very hip teacher, that Mr. Miller!) Upon further reflection, however, it has struck me that I probably read Jules Verne’s 1864 classic A Journey to the Center of the Earth back in junior high school, and that, going back to late public school, there was the series of books featuring teenage inventor Tom Swift, Jr. Baby boomers may perhaps recall how very popular these books were back when... Read More

Stand on Zanzibar: It’s time for everybody to read it

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Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

George Orwell and Aldous Huxley were two writers who initially established themselves not only in the world of realist fiction, but also as effective observers on society. As a result, their later novels Nineteen Eighty-four and Brave New World are heralded as two of the greatest science fiction novels ever written, with literary purists even willing to make allowances despite the sci-fi leanings. Perhaps it is John Brunner’s misfortune that his career was established in the world of science fiction. When Stand on Zanzibar was published in 1968, only those within the genre took notice of its qualities. As poignant literature that transcends genre, it too comments with profound relevance on the human condition.

The book’s title is based on the idea that 7 billion people ... Read More

Foxglove Summer: You can take the constable outta London, but…

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Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

One of the definitive aspects of Ben Aaronovitch's PETER GRANT series is the fact that it's set in the big smoke (aka London, for all you non-Londoners). So it may come as a surprise to discover that Foxglove Summer (2014), the fifth instalment of the series, is actually set in the countryside. But don't be fooled into thinking this is story about sleepy village life and the occasional nosy neighbour. Far from it. Peter Grant is back along with a myriad of supernatural problems, and he's just as incompetent as he's always been...

Two eleven-year-old girls have gone missing in the rural town of Leominster, Herefordshire. Constable Peter Grant is sent on a routine assignment to check up on an old wizard living in the ar... Read More

All These Worlds Are Yours: The Scientific Search for Alien Life

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All These Worlds Are Yours: The Scientific Search for Alien Life by Jon Willis

All These Worlds Are Yours: The Scientific Search for Alien Life (2016), by Jon Willis, is structured around a simple proposition: if you had four billion dollars to spend (Willis explains why that number late in the book) to seek out non-terrestrial life, where would it make the most sense to spend it? Willis gives his readers a head start by narrowing their choices at the outset to five "plausible scenarios:"

Mars (of course)
Europa
Enceladus
Titan
An exoplanet

Willis begins by offering up a relatively quick but sufficiently detailed overview of the conditions that apparently were necessary for life on Earth (liquid water, magnetic field, atmosphere... Read More

The Last Days of New Paris: Surrealism comes for us all

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The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville

Putting it simply, China Miéville’s The Last Days of New Paris is a “China Miéville” story. For many readers, that’s sufficient information to begin reading.

But here are some additional details, just in case. The Last Days of New Paris is a novella length alternate history in which the Nazis and the resistance fight to control Paris. Something weird is going on in this timeline: surreal creatures called “manifs” wander the streets of Paris after an S-Blast took the surreal creatures out of the artworks and into the world. The “manifs” don’t like Nazis, and so the latter counter the former by m... Read More

SFM: Liu, Bisson, Kowal, Landis

Short Fiction Monday: There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. In honor of the just-ended MidAmeriCon II and the awarding of the 2016 Hugos, this week's reviews are all past Hugo award winners that are available to read free online.


“Mono No Aware” by Ken Liu (2012, originally published in The Future is Japanese anthology, reprinted 2013 and free online at Lightspeed, Read More

The Sunlight Pilgrims: Chills to the bone

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The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan

The premise of Jenni Fagan’s 2016 novel, The Sunlight Pilgrims, is entirely plausible: in the not-so-far-off future of November 2020, winter has descended upon the globe, the Gulf Stream is both slowing and cooling, a gigantic iceberg is making its way from Norway to Scotland, and the Thames is overflowing from the extra water created by melting polar ice caps. Rather than focus on climatologists or environmental and economic protestors, however, Fagan presents three average people and the ways their lives intertwine and change as they try to survive the worst winter on record.

Until recently, Dylan McRae lived in a Soho art-house movie theatre with his mother and grandmother, distilling homemade gin and sharing the joys of classic cinema with their dwindling patrons. Both women have died, unfortunately, and... Read More

In the Courts of the Sun: Promising techno-thriller/time travel hybrid can’t quite deliver

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In the Courts of the Sun by Brian D’Amato

In the Courts of the Sun is an interesting novel, built Frankenstein’s-monster-like from the elements of a Michael Crichton techno-thriller, Gary Jennings' Aztec series, and one of Stephen Baxter's unique spins on time travel. I enjoyed the book, but it's uneven. The book was written by artist Brian D'Amato and is the first in the JED DE LANDA two-book series.

The story is heavily character-driven, led by Jed DeLanda, a supremely intelligent, anti-social, hard-core gamer of Mayan descent. DeLanda is one of the few people in the world who can play an... Read More

Sandman: Endless Nights by Neil Gaiman

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Sandman: Endless Nights by Neil Gaiman

Having just finished the 10-volume epic SANDMAN saga, it’s hard to imagine anything that can top this achievement. In aggregate, it is certainly the most ambitious comic of its time, and having depicted the character arc of Dream, also known as Morpheus and the Sandman, there is isn’t much to add to that. At the same time, since the Endless have lived for the lifetime of the current universe (and perhaps previous iterations), there are an infinite number of side-stories that Gaiman could conceive. So it was inevitable that he would choose to pen some stories that featured each of the Endless — this project itself could be endless, if there’s enough demand from Sandman fans.

Endless Nights has a story about each of the Endless, each penned by different artists whom Gaiman chose to best represent the ... Read More

Yorath the Wolf: A good follow-up to A Princess of the Chameln

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Yorath the Wolf by Cherry Wilder

Warning: May contain spoilers for A Princess of the Chameln

One of the mysteries laid out in Cherry Wilder’s A Princess of Chameln is the identity and whereabouts of Aidris’s cousin, the child of Elvedegran, her mother’s sister and the queen of Mel’Nir. The common understanding is that, because of a monstrous birth defect, the child and the mother both died. However, late in A Princess of Chameln, Aidris receives news that confirms her mother’s deathbed prophecy: Elvedegran’s child lives.

Yorath, the titular character of Yorath the Wolf (1984), the sec... Read More

The Vampire: South-of-the-border neck noshing

The Vampire directed by Fernando Mendez

The DVD company known as Casa Negra has managed to impress me yet again. Specializing in Mexican horror films of the classic era of 1956 - '65, this outfit had previously wowed me with great-looking, extras-packed DVDs of such wonderful films as The Brainiac, The Witch's Mirror, The Man and the Monster, and especially The Black Pit of Dr. M and The Curse of the Crying Woman (I personally deem that last one a horror masterpiece). And now, The Vampire, which was originally released in 1957 under the title El Vampiro ... and a good thing, I suppose, as there seems to have been a little-seen American film called The Vampire released that same year. El Vampiro was directed by Fernando Mendez, who had previously made a mark on Mexican audiences with his 1956 horror picture Body Thief, so much so that producer Abel Salazar hired him to helm... Read More

Stiletto: The hidden, super-powered weapon of destruction

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Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley

Note: This review contains some minor spoilers for The Rook, the first book in THE CHECQUY FILES series.

The Checquy, a top secret British agency of people with supernatural powers, are contemplating a peace accord and merger with their hereditary enemies, the Belgian Wetenschappelijk Broederschap van Natuurkundigen (the “Scientific Brotherhood of Physicists”), whom the Checquy dismissively call the “Grafters.” While Checquy members are born with superpowers (some of them very odd, like the ability to implode another person until their whole body is about the size of a head, a process that is invariably fatal), the Grafters get their superpowers through wildly advanced surgical modifications.

In the seventeenth century, the Grafte... Read More

The High Crusade: Science fantasy silliness

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The High Crusade by Poul Anderson

In his wonderful breakdown of the genre in The Strategies of Fantasy, Brian Atterbery devotes an entire chapter to the sub-genre of science fantasy, stating that of the “works that mingle the rhetoric of science fiction with that of fantasy, nearly all can be classed as either humorous or mythological.” Though citing a scene from A Princess of Mars wherein love develops between a human male and an egg-laying Martian, what Atterbery is too coy to say directly is that humor and absurdity go hand-in-hand. But he does not mention Poul Anderson’s 1960 novel The High Crusade, which may, in fact, be the po... Read More

WWWednesday: August 17, 2016

Instead of one word for Wednesday, I’m going to let the Haggard Hawks team give you 10: 10 words absorbed into English that come from other languages. (I think there are more than 10 by the time he’s finished.) Warning; this will change how you see avocados.



Conventions:

MidAmeriCon II Logo



World Con – MidAmeriCon II – starts today! Several of us, including Kat, Kelly, Kate, Bill and me will be at the convention various days. If you’re at the Con, we’d love to meet you. We’ll be wearing our Fantasy Literature T-Shirts –look for us! You can also check the FanLit Twitter feed (@FanLit) throughout the Con. 

Awards:

The short list for the Dragon Awards, to be inaugurated at this ye... Read More

I Am Princess X: Tense, exciting, a little scary

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I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

My 14 year-old daughter (Tali) and I recently listened to the audiobook version of Cherie Priest’s I Am Princess X. We took a look at the print version, too, since the story is part novel, part comic. It’s about a slightly awkward girl named May who, back in fifth-grade, became best friends with a girl named Libby during recess when the two of them, both new to the school, had to sit out. Bored on the playground, together they created a cartoon heroine named Princess X. She has blue hair, wears red Chuck Taylors with her princess dress, and carries a katana instead of a wand (because “anyone can be awesome with magic” but “a sword takes skill.”). Libby did the artwork while May created the story. Their friendship, and Princess X, en... Read More

A Princess of the Chameln: A thoughtful and magical coming of age story

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A Princess of the Chameln by Cherry Wilder

In A Princess of the Chameln, Cherry Wilder tells the story of Aidris Am Firn, whose parents, the king and queen of the Firn and one half of the rulership of the Chameln, are attacked in front of her. As her last living act, Aidris’s mother gives her a magical stone that will aid her in the future, and commands her not to let anyone else see it. Not long after, another assassination is attempted on her life and the life of her cousin, Sharn Am Zor, the prince who is destined to rule at Aidris’s side when they are grown. Aidris is sent to live with regent after regent, constantly on the run for her life, while she tries to seek out who poses a threat to her rule.

In some ways A Princess of the Chameln felt episodic rather than following one clearly-defined course of action. A... Read More

Burning Bright: High seas adventure and romance, flame-broiled to taste

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Burning Bright by Melissa McShane

Twenty-one year old Elinor Pembroke, dreaming of fire burning all around her, awakes to find her room actually ablaze with an intense fire ― a fire she caused in her sleep. Elinor is able to quench the fire with simply a thought. The ability to not only mentally generate but also to extinguish fire makes her an Extraordinary Scorcher, the first British person with this high level of power over fire in over a hundred years. In this alternative Regency world, a few people have magical talents ― telepathy, flying, teleporting, visions, and more ― and those who have especially strong abilities are called Extraordinaries.

Elinor's dictatorial father is delighted that his nondescript middle daughter is suddenly an extremely valuable commodity in the marriage market: many men are interested in marrying a woman with a strong talent in order to produce gift... Read More

That Which Should Not Be: Heavy mythological Lovecraftian horror

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That Which Should Not Be by Brett Talley

That Which Should Not Be is a dark and moody book, fit for a cold autumn or winter evening in front of a crackling, smoky fire. The writing style reeks of HP Lovecraft, but also of Bram Stoker. This is not surprising, of course, as the novel is an ode to Lovecraft’s pantheon and theme of elder gods. This is Brett Talley’s first novel, but he nails the voice and tone of late 19th/early 20th century fiction.
One can never truly know when he steps outside his door whether today will be a day that passes without consequence, or if it will be one that changes everything.
A student from Lovecraft’s famed Miskatonic University is hunting for a lost book of ancient renown. It’s not the well-known Necronomicon, but rather a companion... Read More