SFF Reviews

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Golden Fool: A nearly perfect fantasy novel

Golden Fool by Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb’s TAWNY MAN trilogy, and the FARSEER trilogy that precedes them, are some of the finest epic fantasies ever written. FitzChivarly Farseer is probably my favorite character in all of fantasy literature and he’s at his best in the TAWNY MAN books. Golden Fool, the middle book in the trilogy, is nearly a perfect novel, and so is its successor, Fool’s Fate. I re-read Golden Fool last week because it’s just been released in audio format by Brilliance Audio (superbly narrated by James Langton) and I wanted to re-visit the series before reading Hobb’s newest book, Fool’s Assassin. Though I’ve read over a thousand fantasy novels since I first read Golden Fool, the book was just as superior as I remembered.

[Ple... Read More

Terms of Enlistment: Easily digestible, rather average, military SF

Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos

Andrew Grayson wants out. Growing up in the wretched urban tenements of the North American Commonwealth in the year 2108 has left him bitter, jaded and willing to risk his life to avoid becoming another barely surviving victim of a failed social system. His mother and father are no longer together and Andrew knows that if he wants a future the only real way out is to join the Armed Forces of the North American Commonwealth.

In the world of 2108 war is constant. Mankind has gone to space and is colonizing other planets, but we can’t seem to stop fighting each other whether on this world or another. For Grayson, joining the military is risky because conflict is real and there are no guarantees of where he will be assigned if he even makes it through training.

Basic Training in the future is much like it was in the past, except they don’t care if you quit because you are disposab... Read More

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch: A good mind twist

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick

Perhaps Dick’s most misunderstood book, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is not wholly an examination of the reality of reality. Despite that the characters’ experiences often transcend concrete objectivity, the book is more than metaphysics. It is an exploration of morality, and if may be surmised from the parallel events of Dick’s own life, perhaps even an act of catharsis.

The universe of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is not as we know it. Global warming has turned Antarctica into a beach and humans inhabit the solar system. Colonists living on other planets — often drafted like soldiers to leave Earth — participate in communal fantasies augmented by a drug called Can-D to escape the spiritual desolation of their lives. Channeled through Perky Pat and Walt dolls (like Barbie and Ken), the dolls,... Read More

Horrible Monday: The End of the Sentence by Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard

The End of the Sentence by Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard

Malcolm Mays is very close to the end of his rope. After the collapse of his terrible marriage, after a horrific tragedy, he has spent close to his last dollars on a house in rural Ione, Oregon. His first sight of the house confirms that there’s plenty of work to be done, but also that there’s something good to work with. When he opens the front door to his new home for the first time, he finds a huge pile of mail written to the dead owner of the house from an inmate at the federal prison two hundred miles away in Salem. As he explores the house, he receives a letter from the prison himself, delivered, apparently, without the need for a postal worker or any other human agent. The letter is from Dusha Chuchonnyhoof, who tells him that there will be a plate set out for him in the icebox, and flowers beside the bed. It is too long, Dusha says, since he was in that house; he’s bee... Read More

Horrible Monday: The New Gothic edited by Beth K. Lewis

The New Gothic edited by Beth K. Lewis

The New Gothic, an anthology of twelve stories, is edited by Beth K. Lewis and published by Stone Skin Press. It’s a good collection, worth reading.

Gothic horror usually counts on a mounting sense of dread and/or disgust to carry the reader, rather than shock or terror. The fear comes on more slowly, with that faint tickle at the back of your neck, and at its best, a gothic tale creates a sense of otherworldliness, where the characters, and the readers, begin to doubt their own senses. A gothic tale is more likely to rely on a dilapidated house or a dark stretch of forest than gore, dismemberment or mayhem to pack its emotional punch.

The word “New” in the title is a bit of false advertising. None of these stories moves too far from the familiar conventions of the sub-genre. On one hand, it would be difficult to write a... Read More

Direct Descent: Frank Herbert’s worst novel

Direct Descent by Frank Herbert

Direct Descent (1980) is by a fair margin the weakest novel by Frank Herbert I've read.

In the far future the whole of Earth's interior has been taken up by a gigantic library. Ships travel the known universe to collect information about just about everything and bring it back to Earth to archive it and make it available to the entire galaxy. The first and foremost rule of this organization is always obey the government whomever that may be — a rule meant to underline the library’s strict neutrality. But what if the government sends its warships at you? How can you defend yourself armed with archives full of useless knowledge and a policy of strict obedience?

Direct Descent is expanded from the short story “The Pack Rat Planet,” which first appeared in Astounding in December 1954. It is one of Herbert's earliest scie... Read More

The DC Infinite Crisis and the “Old” 52 (Part 2): “Lightning Strikes Twice” by Judd Winick

The DC Infinite Crisis and the “Old” 52 (Part 2): “Lightning Strikes Twice” by Judd Winick

In Part One, I gave an introduction to this series and discussed Countdown to Infinite Crisis #1 (it's available on Comixology or in the trade paperback The OMAC Project). This second review is about the first three issues included in the trade paperback Day of Vengeance. These issues, by Judd Winick, tell the three-part Read More

Fool’s Assassin: Good, but a little slow

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

I have some mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I’m tremendously pleased that Hobb is writing Fitz again. He is and remains (for me at least) her most entertaining protagonist, and represents a return to form following what I believe to be her experimentation in the SOLDIER SON TRILOGY in particular. And the book is good. So far at least, Hobb has managed to resist her tried-and-true soul-splitting motif, and we get a complete human being to follow. Hobb depicts his life with sterling characterization and subtle nuance, reminding me why she is considered one of the best (possibly even the best) in the fantasy genre when it comes to introspective narratives. During the first third to half of the novel, this was enough. In the second portion, though, I admit that I found myself increasingly concerned at how slowly Hobb was building events.

Now, let’s be clear: Hobb has nev...

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Schemers: Stories of complex plans and gut wrenching betrayals

Schemers by Robin D. Laws (editor)

Schemers is a collection of short stories by an excellent list of authors: Jesse Bullington, Tobias Buckell, Ekaterina Sedia, Jonathan L. Howard, Nick Mamatas, Elizabeth A. Vaughan, Tania Hershman, Kyla Lee Ward, Robyn Seale, Laura Lush, Molly Tanzer, John Helfers, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, and Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer.  These are stories of complex plans and gut wrenching betrayals. It is a great theme for a collection of short stories.... Read More

The Crimson Shield: Heroic fantasy

The Crimson Shield by Nathan Hawke

Last year I was looking through the Gollancz catalogue and one book in particular caught my eye: Nathan Hawke’s The Crimson Shield. Notice anything unusual about the cover? The title and author aren’t there — they’re on the binding. And with a cover that beautiful, it’s both a bold strategy and a no-brainer.

Nathan Hawke, a pseudonym of Stephen Deas, author of the MEMORY OF FLAMES, THIEF-TAKER’S APPRENTICE, and SILVER KINGSseries, claims inspiration from the legendary David Gemmell in writing the new GALLOW trilogy. The inspiration is clearly visible, as it feels much look a story Gemmell would write, but it’s got its own identity and someth... Read More

The Well of Ascension: I’m on the fence about this one

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

(Warning: This review may contain spoilers of Book One, Mistborn.)

There is a lot to like about The Well of Ascension, the second book in Brandon Sanderson’s MISTBORN trilogy. There is also a lot that is disappointing. After a lot of serious thought, I must commit to a position, so I am… sitting on the fence.

This book starts up one year after Vin, a peasant girl with powerful allomantic or metal-magical powers, and her noble lover Elend Venture overthrew the Lord Ruler, an immortal near-god who had ruled the Final Empire for one thousand years. Allomancers ingest small amount of various metals, and when they metabolize or “burn” them, the metals give them magical abilities. Most allomancers, called mistings, can utilize only one metal and have only one power. Vin, a Mistborn, can... Read More

Garrett for Hire: Collects three Garrett, P.I. adventures

Garrett for Hire by Glen Cook

Garrett for Hire is an omnibus edition of three books in Glen Cook’s popular GARRETT, P.I. series. These books are Deadly Quicksilver Lies, Petty Pewter Gods and Faded Steel Heat, books seven, eight and nine in the series, respectively. However, because each book fairly stands alone, I never felt that I was missing out on any important details by joining the series at the halfway point. Nor did I feel like I could have used a bit more background to fully appreciate the characters, events or location. Therefore, don’t let the fact that this omnibus isn’t comprised of books one, two and three keep you from reading it.

Garrett for Hire reads like a noir novel with a little bit of a Read More

Storms of Victory: So much left to do in this unfinished series

Storms of Victory by Jerry Pournelle

Storms of Victory, the third book in Jerry Pournelle’s JANISSARIES series, begins with a wedding and a war council, two events that epitomize Rick Galloway’s interactions on the planet Tran so far — making allies and subduing enemies. Even as he solidifies one alliance with a marriage, the mood of the festive occasion is dampened by rumors of impending political and religious conflict. Besides his known allies and enemies, Rick is soon dealing with traitors, assassins, kidnappers, and teenage ninjas. Nobody can be trusted — not even his own wife. In fact, Rick’s marriage is on the rocks, a situation that provides much of the dramatic tension in Storms of Victory.

All of this drama and turmoil is preventing Rick et al from focusing on their most important job — harvesting the psychotropic plant for their al... Read More

The Wisdom of the Shire: Remembering Hobbit wisdom in the 21st century

The Wisdom of the Shire by Noble Smith

Hobbits constantly surprise Elf kings, dragons, and Dark Lords with their courage and valiant spirit, but we rarely associate them with wisdom. Thankfully, Noble Smith’s The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life exists to correct our mistake. Wisdom of the Shire is one part self-help book and one part homage to Hobbit wisdom.

Smith divides his work into a series of essays, with titles like “How Snug is Your Hobbit-hole?” and “Your Own Personal Gollum.” The chapters often begin with a summary of Bilbo and Frodo’s adventures (sometimes Gandalf gets a mention and there’s even a chapter on “The Lore of the Ents”) in Middle-earth, which ends with a concise summary of the essay’s lesson.

Unfortunately, the essays rarely led to a startling revelation for me, perhaps ... Read More

The Man in the High Castle: A triumph of speculative literature

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

He wasn’t the first to create a work of alternate history, but Philip K. Dick’s 1962 The Man in the High Castle is amongst the very best offerings of the sub-genre, and it is relevant to an ever-globalizing world. A thought experiment rather than a traditional novel, the book explores the idea: what if the allied powers lost WWII? What would a world ruled by Nazi Germany and Japan be like?

The year is roughly 1960 and America has been divided into three parts: a Japanese controlled west coast, an American interior, and a German east coast. The US as we know it could not be more altered culturally. In the Pacific Coast State, white Americans are second class to the Japanese, and the Chinese are considered even lower. Yi Jing, or, the Book of Changes is the ruling belief system and plays a prominent role in the lives of most of... Read More

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