SFF Reviews

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Good Morning, Midnight: Your book club might enjoy this

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Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

Lily Brooks-Dalton’s general fiction novel, Good Morning, Midnight (2017), is literary in nature but uses speculative elements to contemplate isolation, hope, despair and human connection. The book has beautiful prose, especially in some of the descriptions of the arctic, and interesting insights into human nature, but it was not a completely satisfying book for me. In a few places, the hand of the author can be seen forcing events in order to make the story work, and some of these tropes, particularly the literary ones, felt too familiar. Still, it’s worth checking out for the writing alone.

Good Morning, Midnight follows two characters who are about as far apart spacially as one can imagine. Augustine is an astronomer who has remained behind at an arctic observatory site... Read More

Mirror Dance: A fine metaphor

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is Marion's review of The Vor Game, Brothers in Arms, and Mirror Dance. Kat's comments about Mirror Dance are at the bottom.

Miles Vorkosigan is nearly a dwarf, with bones as brittle as fine porcelain, and he is a Vor, one of the elite, the son of the Imperial Regent. The Vor, and everyone on Barrayar for that matter, are terrified of mutation because of their history, and Miles looks like a mutation even though he isn’t one. During the middle books of this series, Miles finds a way to serve his planet while succeeding in space, where for the most part people judge achievement more than physical appearance.

Miles cannot escape his Barrayaran heritage, however. In The Vor Game Read More

Jupiter’s Circle by Mark Millar

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Jupiter’s Circle (Volumes 1 & 2) by Mark Millar, a prequel to Jupiter’s Legacy, is an excellent retelling and critique of the golden age of superheroes. There’s plenty of action, but it is sidelined for the primary purpose of telling the private lives of the heroes. Their trials and tribulations behind the scenes are what make this comic so good. We see what the public in the comic does not, and what we see is often not a pretty sight. And by making certain characters similar to Superman and Batman, Millar gives us insight into our own famous comic book superheroes.

In Volume 1, the six-issue story arc is broken up into three smaller stories of two issues each. The first deals with a closeted superhero in Hollywood. He juggles three different lives: His secret identity as a famous and re... Read More

How The Universe Works: An Illustrated Guide to the Cosmos and All We Know About It

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How the Universe Works by Chartwell Books

Though not without some issues, How the Universe Works is generally an excellent reference work for a decently wide range of readers young to old (I’d guess it’s targeted at older teens and adults). Elementary school children will feel a little overwhelmed by some of the text, but the wonderful graphics: cut-away diagrams, timelines, etc., will provide them some clear and manageable info. Older young readers will follow the textual information better and the illustrations will serve as enhancement and clarification, while older readers who know some of this information will find the illustrations allow for better visualization while the text will serve as concise reminders.

Chapter One deals with cosmography, opening with a good visual “zoom out” to give a sense of our place in the universe, moving from the solar ... Read More

Scythe: Killing with (or without) kindness

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Scythe by Neal Shusterman

I’m unfamiliar with Neal Shusterman’s other novels and his work on television shows like Animorphs and Goosebumps, but simply based on what I enjoyed about Scythe (2016) and considering that it was nominated for the Printz Award in 2017, I feel confident in saying that he knows how to write for his audience while throwing in some interesting curveballs that keep this novel, the first in a dystopian YA trilogy, from feeling like a rubber-stamp duplication of every mediocre example of that genre.

Scythe sets up a future world in which humanity no longer fears aging, disease, famine, or war — we have eliminated our worst foes and national boundaries, and now, basic needs are met by a powerful global A.I. known as Thunderhead. (Modern cloud storage turned up to 11, basically.... Read More

Magic of Wind and Mist: Enchanting and entertaining

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Magic of Wind and Mist by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Cassandra Rose Clarke originally published two novels, The Assassin’s Curse and The Pirate’s Wish, which were later collected in the omnibus Magic of Blood and Sea. The omnibus Magic of Wind and Mist (2017) collects two more novels, The Wizard’s Promise and its previously-unpublished sequel, The Nobleman’s Revenge. Magic of Wind and Mist is directly affected by the events within Magic of Blood and Sea, and certain events and characters will ma... Read More

The Gone-Away World: Relentlessly ironic, digressive, and clever

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The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

The Gone-Away World (2008) is a post-apocalyptic comedy/tragedy about our world before and after the Gone-Away Bombs have wiped up out much of humanity and the world we know. It is about Gonzo Lubitsch and his nameless best friend, who work for a special crew that is assigned to put of a fire along the Jorgmond pipeline, which produced the special material “Fox” that can eliminate the Stuff, the matter that is left over after gone-away bombs have removed the information from matter so that it no longer can form coherent form and structure. Stuff takes on the shape of the thoughts of people near it — nightmarish monsters, ill-formed creatures, and “new people.” Nightmares become real, and the world itself is a nightmare of sorts.

And very soon after the story begins, we are wrenched back into Gonzo and his friend’s ... Read More

Exit West: A slightly speculative exploration of love, migration and nationality

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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

2017’s Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is definitely not speculative fiction. It is general fiction, literary in nature, which uses a trope of speculative fiction as one way to explore the nature of war, love and human migration.

There is always a risk when a general fiction writer “discovers” speculative fiction and tries to write it without having read within the genre. The story often contains hackneyed, tired-out elements which the writer trumpets as new and amazing. Hamid dodges this risk completely. His strange black rectangles, which appear in doorways, like in closets or storage sheds, and lead to other parts of the world, are not explained. Even though they lead to mass migrations, they are a minor part of the story. Exit West focuses on the impact of migration on nations, communities, ... Read More

A Wild Sheep Chase: In search of lost things, including a sheep

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A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

I’ve seen Haruki Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase casually described as postmodern, as surreal, and as magic realism. Though it was published in 1982 (and translated into English in 1989), and though the main character is not a private investigator, I nevertheless think of it as a weird private investigator novel. Private investigators are often associated with thrillers, their novels can play with the expectation that the detective will solve the case, and/ or they can create a noir atmosphere that the hero inhabits on the reader’s behalf. A Wild Sheep Chase works mostly like these last two types of private investigator stories.

A wild goose chase is an exercise in futility, but perhaps a wild ... Read More

Before Mars: Impossible to put down

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Before Mars by Emma Newman

Emma Newman has done it again with her third PLANETFALL novel, Before Mars (2018). I ignored my usual daily reading goals and limits, I ignored a growing stack of paperwork, and I even ignored dinner because I was far more invested in Dr. Anna Kubrin’s declining mental state. What other reason could there be for her growing distance from reality? Why else would she be convinced that something nefarious is going on at her tiny, isolated Mars research station, when the other four scientists-in-residence and the station’s AI insist that everything is copacetic?

Interestingly, Before Mars seems to exist contemporaneously with Afte... Read More

Brothers in Arms: Adds a new facet to the Vorkosigan character

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is Marion's review of The Vor Game, Brothers in Arms, and Mirror Dance

Miles Vorkosigan is nearly a dwarf, with bones as brittle as fine porcelain, and he is a Vor, one of the elite, the son of the Imperial Regent. The Vor, and everyone on Barrayar for that matter, are terrified of mutation because of their history, and Miles looks like a mutation even though he isn’t one. During the middle books of this series, Miles finds a way to serve his planet while succeeding in space, where for the most part people judge achievement more than physical appearance.

Miles cannot escape his Barrayaran heritage, however. In The Vor Game, he must rescue his cousin and planetary emperor Gr... Read More

The Oracle Year: An exciting, fast-paced science fiction thriller

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The Oracle Year by Charles Soule

OCTOBER 8: FOURTEEN BABIES WILL BE BORN AT NORTHSIDE GENERAL HOSPITAL IN HOUSTON. SIX MALE, EIGHT FEMALE.

One morning at about 5:00 am, Will Dando, a struggling young New York musician, abruptly awakes from a vivid dream. In his dream, a voice told Will 108 oddly specific and rather random predictions about the future, which he remembers verbatim when he wakes up. Some are potentially life-changing: warnings of the collapse of a major bridge and other disasters. Others may have a huge financial effect: a football game that will be won by the Jets by four points; a caution about a late freeze of crops in the southeastern United States. Still others are apparently mundane:
APRIL 24 – MRS. LUISA ALVAREZ OF EL PASO, TEXAS, PURCHASES A QUART OF CHOCOLATE MILK, SOMETHING SHE HAS NOT HAD IN TWENTY YEARS, TO SEE IF SHE STILL ENJOYS THE TASTE AS ... Read More

Borders of Infinity: Three important stories about Miles

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold (contains the novellas “The Mountains of Mourning,” “Labyrinth,” “The Borders of Infinity”)

Borders of Infinity has a different structure than the earlier VORKOSIGAN books. It’s actually three previously published novellas with a frame story. Simon Illyan, head of Imperial Security, is visiting Miles while he’s recuperating in the hospital after a surgery for bone replacements. Knowing that the government will start asking questions, Simon needs Miles to justify three large vague items in his expense reports. When Miles protests, Simon explains that because he’s the prime minister’s son, Miles must avoid even the appearance of shady accounting practices. And so Miles explains each item and thus we get the stories in the novellas “The Mountains of Mourning,” origi... Read More

Demo: A stunning collection that I have read and taught for years

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Demo by Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan

Demo is a collection of eighteen coming-of-age short stories about young people. It’s a giant collection of close to five hundred pages. Usually, but not always, one of the characters has a “super power,” but none of the stories is a superhero story. None of these characters tries to be “super” in any way — characters do not run — or fly — around saving others from villains, nor are there any global threats that need attending. In most instances, these stories deal with everyday issues, even if those issues seem a little more dramatic because of a power. In keeping with the everyday nature of the book, the art by Becky Cloonan is in black-and-white. The lack of colors aids in preventing this book from looking like a superhero comic. In looks and in feel, the stories of Demo are very much “indie... Read More

Will Do Magic For Small Change: Interesting characters, great ideas, and theater arts

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Will Do Magic For Small Change by Andrea Hairston

Andrea Hairston’s 2016 novel Will Do Magic for Small Change spills out across traditional fantasy subcategories like the foamy head of a beer. There are urban fantasy elements, historical fantasy, science fiction and coming-of-age themes in this tale, which is set alternately in 1987 and the turn of the 20th century. And while I don’t think there is a subgenre called “performance magic” or “theater magic” yet, when there is, this book will be a seminal example because the love of the theater and performance runs all the way through it.

In 1987, Cinnamon struggles to find acceptance. She is African-American, tall for her age (fourteen), heavy, super-smart and a motor-mouth in a very particular way. She wants to sing and act on stage and she’s gifted, but racism and sexism blo... Read More

The Valley Of Creation: Clan brothers

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The Valley Of Creation by Edmond Hamilton

One of the crowning events in the sci-fi/fantasy year 1948 was most assuredly the release of Jack Williamson’s 1940 novella Darker Than You Think as an expanded, full-length novel; it has since gone on to be acclaimed one of the greatest fictional books on the subject of lycanthropy ever written. In it, reporter Will Barbee learns that he is a primordial shapeshifter and, in one memorable sequence, runs through the night in the form of a wolf, relishing his exhilarating swiftness and grace. But this was not the only time in 1948 that the reader was presented with such a scenario. In the July issue of the 20-cent Startling Stories magazine that year, Williamson’s close fri... Read More

Fire Dance: Lovely prose and worldbuilding, but left me wanting more

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Fire Dance by Ilana C. Myer

Readers who were enthralled by Ilana C. Myer’s 2015 debut novel, Last Song Before Night, will be pleased to know that they can expect more of what they enjoyed in the sequel/companion novel, Fire Dance (2018). Myer’s prose is rich and imaginative, and her worldbuilding is multi-layered. For my own part, I think that many important details wouldn’t have made sense to me if I hadn’t read Last Song Before Night first, but readers who begin these books with Fire Dance may feel otherwise.

After a terrible storm, the Archmaster of the Academy of Poets is found alone in his room, dead. The r... Read More

Unbury Carol: Many interesting parts that didn’t quite fit together for me

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Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman

Unbury Carol (2018) is billed as a Weird West story, and Josh Malerman has staged it in a world that has the trappings of the mythical American West — stagecoaches, outlaws, “triggermen” and a perilous Trail the outlaws ride. Malerman’s prose is elegant and he manages to create, at least with the character of Sheriff Opal, an authentic sense of rhythm and regional speech. Moments of bizarre imagery startled me and captured my imagination. Overall, though, the many intricately carved pieces just didn’t fit into a congruent whole for me.

Carol Evers is a wealthy heiress in the frontier town of Harrows. She has been married to Dwight Evers for about twelve years. Carol has a condition that drops her into deep comas, so deep that she appears to be dead. Her heart beats once a minute and she may draw two breaths... Read More

SFM: Bowes, de Bodard, Larson, Yoachim

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few excellent stories, including three more from the current crop of Nebula and Hugo award nominees. 

Dirty Old Town by Richard Bowes (2017, Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine, May/June 2017 issue; PDF is temporarily free here, courtesy of F&SF). 2018 Nebula award nominee (novelette)

Richard Bowes is no stranger to semi-autobiographical work. He returns to that for... Read More

Senlin Ascends: Bizarre and delightful

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Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

Two years ago when we were involved with Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off, Senlin Ascends was one of the books that didn't make it to the final round (so we didn’t get to read it then). But Mark Lawrence read it, started talking about it on the internet, and it got picked up by Orbit Books. Hachette, the parent company of Orbit Books, just recently produced it in audio format and sent me a copy.

Thomas Senlin is a stuffy schoolmaster from a small town who just got married and is on his way with Marya, his new bride, to The Tower of Babel, a strange structure that ascends hundreds of feet in the air and whose top (if there is one) is obscured by clouds. Thomas has read all abou... Read More

Jupiter’s Legacy (vols. 1 & 2): Worth seeking out

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Jupiter’s Legacy (vols. 1 & 2) by Mark Millar, with art by the incredible Frank Quitely, tells the origin story of a new group of superheroes. It is told quickly and succinctly, switching between the early days and the present, years after the race of superheroes began. In the present, we meet the next generation of superheroes, and they have many problems dealing with superhero parents. Having a therapist seems to be expected when you are the child of a superhero. Mark Millar is known for his high-action, Hollywood-style comics. A lot happens in his stories, usually told in a five-issue arc, and you feel as if you’ve sat through the latest early summer blockbuster when you read one of his stories.

In Jupiter’s Legacy (Volume 1), the idealistic older generation is shown in contrast with the children who, though they... Read More

Chrononauts: A wild ride!

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Chrononauts by Mark Millar and Sean Murphy

How else can I describe Chrononauts but as a wild ride? Mark Millar, the master of the blockbuster comic book, increases the action beyond his usual by cramming more events than you can possibly imagine into a four-issue mini-series. He collaborated on the idea with artist Sean Murphy, and the result is a buddy adventure story across time and place.

Dr. Quinn first creates an unmanned time machine — more of a satellite — that allows the world to observe events in the past on live television. Then, with the help of a friend, they develop a suit, equipped with a hundred-year battery, that allows whoever wears it to travel anywhere at any point in time. The suit even allows them to transport whatever they are touching — anything from an I-phone to a car to an airplane. So at certain points in the story, they drive fr... Read More

Jessica Jones, Scarred Hero: Essays on Gender, Trauma, and Addiction in the Netflix Series

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Jessica Jones, Scarred Hero: Essays on Gender, Trauma, and Addiction in the Netflix Series ed. Tim Rayborn & Abigail Keyes

It’s hard to fault an anthology for doing exactly what its title says it’s going to do, and so I won’t. I’m just going to note that Jessica Jones, Scarred Hero mostly focuses like a laser on its three sub-topics, particularly the latter two — trauma and addiction — and so if you are looking for a wide-ranging look at the character/series, one that might have essays dealing with class, gender, race, film techniques etc., this is not going to be that anthology. Personally, I found the sharp focus began to feel a bit constricting and certainly added to some slight repetitiveness/redundancy in the collection, but I’m not pointing to those as flaws, merely as warnings. If you desire a look at how addiction and trauma a... Read More

Olympus Bound: Smash the patriarchy

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Olympus Bound by Jordanna Max Brodsky

Warning: some mild spoilers for both The Immortals and Winter of the Gods will be unavoidable.

In Olympus Bound (2018), Jordanna Max Brodsky concludes the OLYMPUS BOUND trilogy she began with The Immortals, featuring the Greek goddess Artemis living in modern-day New York City under various appellations, including Selene. As the books progressed, the remaining Greek gods dwindled in number, murdered or sacrificed in the name of an ancient and seemingly unstoppable cult. But now, Selene knows t... Read More

School for Psychics: Yet another school for magically-gifted youngsters

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School for Psychics by K.C. Archer

Theodora “Teddy” Cannon is hiding her short black hair and slight build under a long blonde wig, weighted underwear that adds thirty pounds, and cheap flashy clothing. It’s all in an effort to fool the security personnel and facial recognition software at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. There she plans to parlay her $5,000 bankroll (from selling her car) into enough money to pay back the $270,000 she owes to Sergei Zharkov, a vicious Vegas bookie, and her adoptive parents, who know Teddy has been living an aimless and trouble-strewn life but are unaware that she’s stolen $90,000 from their retirement account to make a partial payment to Zharkov. Teddy knows she has the talent to “read” other card players almost faultlessly ― it’s led to her being banned from all the casinos on the Strip ― and is confident that she can win big at Texas Hold ’Em if she is... Read More