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Indispensable Issues: Digital Comics on a Budget

Indispensable Issues: Digital Comics on a Budget

In this regularly updated column, I will be giving very brief plugs for digital comics that can be purchased on Comixology for $1 to $10 (along with a few free ones, too!). Over time, I want to build up a good list of affordable comics for those new to the art form or for those comic book fans who want to find hidden gems on Comixology.

I hope to feature plenty of independent comics, both new and old, though I will not avoid DC and Marvel. I merely won’t give them preference. Also, though I might include superhero comics, this list will reflect a wide variety of genres from the autobiographical to the western to SFF.

Here are my guidelines for inclusion in this column:

Great One-shots (“one-offs”)
Great First Issues
Free Comics
Great stand-alone single issues or great stand-alone short story arcs in the middle of a series
... Read More

Zoe’s Tale: “The Last Colony” from Zoe’s perspective

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi

Zoe’s Tale (2008), the fourth book in John Scalzi’s OLD MAN’S WAR series, is the same story we were told in book three, The Last Colony, except it’s from Zoe’s perspective. Zoe is the 17-year-old daughter of the traitorous scientist Charles Boutin. Jane Sagan and John Perry adopted Zoe when she was a small child and they’ve been farming on one of Earth’s colonies for years. Now, though, the family is off to lead the settlers of a new colony called Roanoke (uh-oh). When they get there they realize they’ve been duped and life on Roanoke has a lot more going on than just terraforming a new planet.

While I was reading The Last Colony there were several times I wondered “what’s Zoe doing?” or “what does Zoe think about this?” or even “i... Read More

The Time of Contempt: This story is getting darker

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The Time of Contempt by Andrzej Sapkowski

The fourth installment in Andrzej Sapkowski’s popular WITCHER series is The Time of Contempt (1995 in Polish, 2013 in English) which begins immediately after the ending of the previous novel, Blood of Elves. (You must read the previous stories before beginning this book and you do not need to be a fan of the Witcher video games.)

War is imminent as the elves of Nilfgaard, an ancient kingdom that was displaced centuries ago by the humans who now control the northern land, begin to plan their revenge. The kings of the northern kingdoms no longer trust the sorcerers and sorceresses they used to employ and haven broken off relationships with them. Even the sorcerers themselves are (rig... Read More

Frankenstein 1970: “Torch, scorch, unforch…”

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Frankenstein 1970 directed by Howard W. Koch

Horror icon Boris Karloff, during the mid-1950s, significantly slowed down his prodigious output of the '30s and '40s. After 1953, fans would have to wait a full four years before his next horror picture, Voodoo Island, was released, and that one is generally acknowledged as one of Boris' few stinkers. The British actor seemed to rebound a bit in 1958, however, with the releases of Frankenstein 1970 — a shlocky yet entertaining picture — and the very-well-done British film Grip of the Strangler. Frankenstein 1970 was the fifth Frankenstein film that Karloff had participated in, following the classic original in 1931, the eternal glory that is 1935's Bride of Frankenstein, 1939's excellent Son of Frankenstein and 1944's House of Frankenstein, but — no surprise — the film in question is any... Read More

Land of Dreams: Strong echoes of Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes

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Land of Dreams by James P. Blaylock

James P. Blaylock is a fabulist, a teller of magic realist tales that reframe our everyday world in more colorful, fanciful, sinister, and whimsical ways. His style and themes often overlap with the works of Tim Powers and they have collaborated on several stories and even have shared the character William Ashbless, which is no surprise since they met as students at Cal State Fullerton. There they also befriended author K.W. Jeter (who coined the term “steampunk” and wrote perhaps the earliest full-length example, 1987’s Read More

The Honey Month: A delicate and unusual collection inspired by honey

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The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar

Having recently re-read Chocolat I found myself with a hankering for more of that winning combination of sugar and magic. It was lucky then that I stumbled across Amal El-Mohtar’s The Honey Month which provided just what I was after in perfect, petit-four-sized nuggets.

The Honey Month was conceived when the author received a gift of assorted honeys from a new-found friend. Finding herself inspired by the smell, taste and texture of each honey she wrote a quick review of each one, followed by a short story or a poem set to the individual sensation each honey garnered. The result is the Honey month, a collection of 28 magical, whimsical snippets, each as unique as the honey that birthed it.

I am hard pressed to say what I enjoyed more, the storie... Read More

Crypt of the Vampire: It’s no Blood-Spattered Bride, but still good enough

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Crypt of the Vampire directed by Camillo Mastrocinque

Everyone knows how wonderful the late great Christopher Lee could be at playing the monstous heavy — not for nothing is he known to his fans as Mr. Tall, Dark and Gruesome! — but many forget that he could be equally adept at portraying "the good guy." Thus, fans are often pleasantly taken aback when they see the 1968 Hammer film The Devil Rides Out for the first time, in which Lee plays the Duc de Richleau, a combater of Satanists in 1920s England (though this film is weak tea compared to Dennis Wheatley's 1934 source novel). For further proof of Lee's ability to portray a defender of right and light, viewers may be interested to seek out Camillo Mastrocinque's Italian Gothic horror film Crypt of the Vampire (1964), which can also be seen under the title Terror in t... Read More

Redemption Ark: Promising ideas but excessive page-count

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Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds

Redemption Ark (2002) is the follow-up to Revelation Space, Alastair Reynolds’ debut novel and the second book in his REVELATION SPACE series of hard SF space opera in which highly-augmented human factions encounter implacable killer machines bent on exterminating sentient life. The first entry had elements of Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix, Frank Herbert’s Read More

The Last Colony: John Perry is back

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

The Last Colony by John Scalzi

The Last Colony, the third book in John Scalzi’s OLD MAN’S WAR series, returns us to the perspective of John Perry, the “old man” hero of the first novel in the series, Old Man’s War. John Perry is only mentioned in the second novel, The Ghost Brigades, which told the story of how the cyborg Special Forces soldiers found and defeated the scientist Charles Boutin, a traitor to the Colonial Union. On that mission they also found Zoe, Boutin’s young daughter. Zoe has been adopted by Jane Sagan and John Perry and the little family has been farming on one of Earth’s colonies where John and Jane are the leaders.

Life is easy for them until the Colonial Union comes calling — they need leaders for a new colonization effort and John and Jane h... Read More

I Spit On Your Grave: NOT the abomination you might be expecting

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I Spit On Your Grave directed by Meir Zarchi

One of the most notorious and controversial pictures ever released, and sporting a reputation of the very worst kind, I Spit On Your Grave is a film that I had long put off watching. Originally released in 1978 under the tamer title Day of the Woman and rereleased in 1980 with its more infamous, expectorated appellation, the film has since angered critics, incensed feminists, appalled viewers and been banned in at least a half dozen countries. But I suppose that morbid curiosity, an interest in cinema history, and an admiration for the picture's lead actress, Camille Keaton (grandniece of Buster, and whose previous performances in a pair of earlier Italian horror films, What Have You Done to Solange? and Tragic Ceremony, had greatly impressed me), all got the best of me, with the result that I found myself plopping the current Anchor Bay DV... Read More

Treachery’s Tools: Satisfying for a fan of the series

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Treachery’s Tools by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

It’s always a surprise when a fantasy novel can carry real meaning in depicting modern issues. Things like pride, avarice and jealousy that can be pervasive in certain segments of the social structure of a modern world can be so powerfully demonstrated when people use swords and magic to actually kill each. L.E. Modesitt Jr.’s Treachery’s Tools was able to provoke those comparisons for me.

When last we left Alastar he had successfully stood off a revolt by High Holders against the Rex of Solidar and the attempted obliteration of the Imager’s Collegium. While many of the participants in this violent confrontation paid with their lives, some managed to avoid paying the ultimate price and slunk into exile. One might have hoped... Read More

The Nightmare Stacks: This one just missed for me

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The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross

In my review of the LAUNDRY FILES book before this one, The Annihilation Score, I noted that there was a lot I liked and a few things I disliked. Unfortunately for me, my experience with The Nightmare Stacks (2016) was the reverse. There were a number of things I enjoyed, but overall I didn’t like this book very much. Charles Stross is a smart, funny, inventive writer, and it distresses me to give this book two and half stars, but it just missed for me, big time. Please note that people on Goodreads are giving it four and five stars, so clearly other people are enjoying more than I did.

I’ve prepared a Power... Read More

Tormented: My Vi on the hi-fi

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Tormented directed by Bert I. Gordon

As most fans know, producer/director Bert I. Gordon didn't receive the pet nickname "Mr. Big" based on his acronym alone. From 1955 to '77, Gordon came out with a series of beloved films dealing with overgrown insects, reptiles, humans and other assorted nasties: King Dinosaur ('55); Beginning of the End, The Cyclops and The Amazing Colossal Man ('57); Attack of the Puppet People (in which Mr. Big reversed directions and went small), War of the Colossal Beast and Earth vs. the Spider ('58); Village of the Giants ('65); Food of the Gods ('76); and Joan Collins' least favorite film of all those that she appeared in, Empire of the Ants ('77). In 1960, however, Gordon took a break from his outsized monstrosities and presented his fans with a decidedly different type of tale: a supernatural ... Read More

SFM: Baker, Pinsker, McCarry

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. 

The Bohemian Astrobleme by Kage Baker (2010, free at Subterranean Press, also included in Nell Gwynne’s Scarlet Spy)

The Bohemian Astrobleme is an entertaining Victorian steampunk novella about an adventure in the history of a rather underhanded and coldblooded group called the ... Read More

The Rains: An original zombie novel where teenagers take centre stage

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The Rains by Gregg Hurwitz

The once-trusted adults of Creek's Cause have turned into zombies. Asteroid 9918 Darwinia has hit the small town, and in one terrifying night, no one under eighteen is safe any more. Chance Rain and his brother Patrick find themselves pitted against a town full of zombies after their aunt and uncle turn. And what's more, it's looking like the infection will spread further than Creek's Cause if they don't do something to warn the rest of the world.

Zombie novels are by no means a new concept, but Gregg Hurwitz adds an innovative and fresh spin to his addition to the genre. First off, The Rains reads more like a sci-fi novel than a horror, and the addition of YA elements makes for the perfect mix. The asteroid and the spores that infect adults are seemingly alien, and it seems the zombies — or Hosts, as our protagonist ... Read More

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill: finding magic and wings in dark times

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The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd

Emmaline knows a secret: Briar Hill, a Shropshire mansion which has been turned into a children’s hospital during World War II, has beautiful winged horses that live in the mirrors of its elegant rooms. They move in and out of the mirror-rooms, walking through doorways, nosing half-finished cups of tea. But only Emmaline can see them, and she keeps the secret to herself. She knows the boys like Benny and Jack will tease her mercilessly if they knew. She doesn’t even tell her best friend Anna, who’s the most ill person at the hospital, for fear that she’ll distress Anna.

One day Benny steals a treasured piece of chocolate from Emmaline and eats it. Upset, Emmaline runs outside and (breaking the hospital rules) climbs over the ivy of a walled garden on the grounds. Inside the abandoned garden, a beautiful white horse with a soft gr... Read More

What Lies Beneath: Claire and present danger

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What Lies Beneath directed by Robert Zemeckis

Robert Zemeckis, by dint of such phenomenally popular films as Romancing the Stone, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the Back to the Future trilogy, Death Becomes Her, Forrest Gump and Contact, was already a highly successful Hollywood director when, along with producers Steve Starkey and Jack Rapke, he formed the ImageMovers production company in 1998. As the company's first project, Zemeckis chose screenwriter Clark Gregg's What Lies Beneath, a modern-day ghost story that, the director told his crew, he wished to bring to the screen as Alfred Hitchcock might have done, IF the Master of Suspense had had access to modern FX technology and computer graphics. (Never mind that none of Hitchcock's 54 films dealt with ghosts or the supernatural per se.) Filmed largely in the Lake Champlain region of Vermont... Read More

The House of Secrets by Steven T. Seagle and by Teddy Kristiansen

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The House of Secrets written by Steven T. Seagle and illustrated by Teddy Kristiansen

The House of Secrets is a twenty-five issue series that started in 1996 and is written by Steven T. Seagle and illustrated by Teddy Kristiansen. It features a lying, unreliable runaway named Rain Harper; a young girl she takes under her wing named Traci; and a group of musicians, one of whom, Ben Volk, becomes the third central character in the series. Right after Rain and Traci meet, Traci tells Rain a valuable secret: She knows a place to squat where they will be safe. Rain, therefore, joins Traci and moves into the House of Secrets. And then all the fun starts.

This series brings with it a long history: House of Secrets, an old horror series that started in 1956, was mainly a platform for one-off stories in the tradition of all the old classic horr... Read More

Frankenstein: A classic for a reason

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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley’s first novel was written in 1818 when Shelley (then Mary Godwin) was only 20. She was staying with her husband-to-be, the married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, on Lake Geneva. As a kind of game, Lord Byron, their friend and companion, proposed that each person in the party write a ghost story. Byron wrote the third canto of Childe Harold; another friend, Polidori, was inspired to write the first vampire novel, “The Vampyre.” But Mary Shelley’s response to the prompt would ultimately become the most famous: Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (betcha didn’t know about that subtitle, huh?).

If you’re mostly familiar with the plot of Frankenstein from the 1931 film or various parodies of it, you might have missed a lot about this particular book. Or, more likely, have i... Read More

Prelude to Space: Clarke’s 1951 debut

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Prelude to Space by Arthur C. Clarke

Prelude to Space is the first novel Arthur C. Clarke wrote and is generally not considered as good as Childhood's End (1953), probably the most famous of Clarke's early novels. The publication history of this story is not unusual for the period. Clarke wrote the novel in the space of a month in 1947 but it wasn't until 1951 that the whole novel was published in magazine format by Galaxy Science Fiction. It was followed by a hardcover edition in 1953. What is atypical about it is that the novel does not appear to be based on one of Clarke's short stories. Although one of his lesser works, it has been reprinted numerous times. The edition I read was printed in... Read More

The Machine Girl: Mon ami

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The Machine Girl directed by Noboru Iguchi

I am very pleased to report that Japanese special FX master (and occasional director) Yoshihiro Nishimura is now a very solid 3 for 3 with me. In 2001's Suicide Club, Nishimura's splattering gore FX gave this ultimately bewildering story just the visceral shocks needed to put it over. In 2008's Tokyo Gore Police, which saw Nishimura also taking the reins of director, his gore FX entered the realm of high art, with many characters transformed into gushing, human blood geysers and sanguinary fountains. (These gushing blood FX, perhaps inspired by Akira Kurosawa's shocking finale of 1962's Sanjuro, could conceivably be deserving of some sort of Japanese patent or copyright!) And now ... 2008's The Machine Girl, which, if not quite as bloody as Tokyo Gore Police (but what film IS?!?!), incorporates the FX more cleverly, and into a more e... Read More

The Annihilation Score: I like the different point-of-view character

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The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross

The Annihilation Score (2016), by Charles Stross, is the sixth book in his LAUNDRY FILES series. Stross has hit on an interesting way to keep a series from flagging. He created a super-secret agency that fights extra-normal entities and events, and by doing this, he has a stable of characters who can take the lead in given books. Most of the LAUNDRY FILES books I’ve read featured Bob Howard as the main character, although there were other POV characters. The Annihilation Score has Dominique O’Brien, Howard’s estranged wife, as the main character.

This review contains mild spoilers for the previous book, Read More

Amazonia: A Haggardian adventure for the modern age

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Amazonia by James Rollins (aka James Clemens)

A scientific expedition of thirty people enters the Amazon jungle and is never heard from again. One of the expedition’s members was Gerald Clark, a former special forces turned CIA agent after he lost an arm in combat. Four years after he disappeared with the expedition, Agent Clark stumbles into a remote mission — covered in markings, his tongue cut out — and then dies in a fit of convulsions. That’s not even the strangest part. When Agent Gerald Clark comes out of the jungle, he has two arms.

How’s that for a premise? If that’s not a spectacular story hook, then I don't know what would be. While not technically classified as fantasy, Amazonia does contain its fair share of monsters, magic, and lost worlds. It’s fanta... Read More

976-EVIL: Sorry, wrong number

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976-EVIL directed by Robert Englund

When the 1988 horror film 976-EVIL was first released in December of that year, its promotional poster bore the legend "Revenge Is On The Line." However, I believe the picture might have improved on its $3 million U.S. gross at the box office if, instead, that poster had rightfully proclaimed "The Film So Shocking, It Could Only Have Been Directed By Freddy Krueger!" And indeed, 1988 WAS a big year for Freddy portrayer Robert Englund. Besides appearing as Krueger for the fourth time, in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (and Englund would go on to portray his most famous screen persona four more times afterward!), the beloved actor, after dozens of film and TV appearances, directed his first film. And, as it turns out, 976-EVIL does have much in common with the lesser Freddy films: It features some nice-looking FX, violent set pieces and a barely... Read More

The Hundred Names of Darkness: Satisfying and heartwarming sequel

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The Hundred Names of Darkness by Nilanjana Roy

In The Hundred Names of Darkness, Nilanjana Roy comes back to the cat colony she so convincingly established in The Wildings, back to the neighborhood of Nizamuddin in Delhi, and her irrepressible young Sender, Mara.

The challenges the cats are facing now are more nebulous — and more realistic — than they were in The Wildings. Instead of a tightly-knit and vividly characterized group of feral cats (led by the chilling Datura, and a more convincingly mad villain I’ve never met!), the threat now is human development. The Bigfeet are building roads, cutting down trees, and polluting Nizamuddin. This huma... Read More