SFF Reviews

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Low Volume 1: The Delirium of Hope (Issues #1-6)

Low Volume 1: The Delirium of Hope by Rick Remender (author) & Greg Tocchini (artist)

Low Volume 1: The Delirium of Hope
, written by Rick Remender and drawn by Greg Tocchini has an intriguing concept whereby in our far, far future (it’s actually the deep past relative to the characters in the story) humanity has fled our burgeoning sun by setting up cities in the depths of the oceans, where they await the news from space probes sent out to seek inhabitable planets. Unfortunately, by the time of the storyline, no probes have returned, the air in what appears to be the only remaining city is turning toxic, and its citizens have turned to a nihilistic, hedonistic lifestyle of sex, drugs, and violence as a means of “dealing” with their impending doom.

The story focuses on a single family whose DNA allows them to work an integral “helm suit” and we meet them jus... Read More

The Next Species: Examining humanity’s past and potential future

The Next Species by Michael Tennesen

The Next Species: The Future of Evolution in the Aftermath of Man, by Michael Tennesen, is an engaging, informative overview of the history of life on this planet and humanity’s impact on that life (mostly for ill), followed by a look into the future and what might happen were humanity to go extinct or diverge into a different species.

He begins with a trip to the rain forest in the Andes, cataloging the rich diversity of life in the relatively small area (“The tropical Andes contain about a sixth of the world’s plant life in less than 1 percent of its land area... more than 1,724 species of birds in an area the size of New Hampshire”) and segues from this richness to a discussion of the consensus belief that we are in the midst of a sixth great extinction.

Over the course of The Next Species, he details those other extinctions, ... Read More

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress: TANSTAAFL on the Moon

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein’s libertarian creed is TANSTAAFL ("There ain't no such thing as a free lunch"), and this book is probably the most complete expression of his political ideas about self-government, attempts to empower women while still being incredibly sexist and condescending, and some pretty good hard SF extrapolation of what a moon colony’s technology, politics and economy might be like. Oh yeah, and there happens to be an omniscient, all-powerful AI named Mike who helps the Loonies stage their revolution against the oppressive Lunar Authority (can you say DEUS EX MACHINA?). The outcome is never really in doubt, so what we are given instead is a 300-page lecture on what Heinlein’s ideal society would be.

Basically Heinlein thinks that most politicians are self-serving and cor... Read More

Tarzan of the Apes: A very fine introduction to the original swinger

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Three years ago, the character of Tarzan celebrated his 100th birthday. Making his initial appearance in the October 1912 issue of All-Story Magazine, in the original Tarzan novel Tarzan of the Apes, Edgar Rice Burroughs' creation proved to be so popular that the author went on to create 25 more novels featuring the jungle swinger. Released in book form two years later, the novel is a perfect introduction to the character who has been called the best-known fictional creation of the 20th century. Like many others, my only previous familiarity with Tarzan was via the Johnny Weissmuller films of the '30s and '40s — all dozen of them — and, to a lesser degree, those featuring Bruce Bennett, Buster Crabbe, Lex Barker and Gordon Scott (I have never gotten a chance to see the... Read More

Fledgling: Love and relationships examined through vampirism

Fledgling by Octavia Butler

In some ways there are superficial resemblances between Fledgling and the last vampire book I read, Let the Right One In: both books have as their star apparently pre-pubescent vampires who have ‘complicated’ relationships with their human companions. In John Ajvide Lindqvist’s case it was a Renfield-like adult who was enamoured of the vampire-child for whom he obtained blood and the young boy who becomes a part of her life. In the case of Butler’s book the vampire in question, Shori, isn’t even only apparently pre-pubescent… according to vampire physiology she is in fact still a child, though that still translates to her being much older than her appearance would suggest (around 52 years old in fact). Despite this fact the relationships she has with the humans around her bear all of the appearances of a pedophilic relationship, at least from the outside.... Read More

The Darkest Part of the Forest: A fairy-tale remix with a touch of realism

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Holly Black's latest book, The Darkest Part of the Forest, is a marvelous YA fairy-tale remix. It follows siblings Hazel and Ben as they work to unfold the mystery surrounding the sleeping prince in the forest outside of Fairfold, a town where humans live in close contact with the fairies the rest of the world doesn't believe in. As Hazel and Ben get closer to understanding the history of the town and the forest, they begin to hide secrets from each other and themselves. Only when all the secrets are told can they work to save the people they love.

Jana and I read this book at the same time. I listened to the audio version. Here are our thoughts.

Kate: The Darkest Part of the Forest combines the favorite themes of young adult fi... Read More

Voyage of the Basilisk: A step back but still an enjoyable journey

Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Warning: Some inevitable spoilers for the previous novels, A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents, will follow.

Voyage of the Basilisk: A Memoir by Lady Trent is the third in Marie Brennan’s series A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS, and I found it falling somewhere between books one and two in terms of the reading experiences (better than the first, but not quite as good as the second). As always in this series, the narrative voice is the strongest aspect and managed to (mostly) outweigh the book’s weaknesses.

Readers will most likely note the resemblance between the title of this work and Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, wh... Read More

Tales of The Dying Earth: A perfect introduction to Jack Vance’s work

Tales of The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

Note: This is a review of the omnibus edition of Vance's DYING EARTH series. The individual novels are The Dying Earth (1950), The Eyes of the Overworld (1966), Cugel’s Saga (1983) and Rhialto the Marvellous (1984).

There aren’t any other books in SF/Fantasy quite like Jack Vance’s Tales of The Dying Earth. They have had an enormous influence on writers ranging from Gene Wolfe and George R.R. Martin to Gary Gygax, the creator of Read More

Double Star: No second-rate actor could ever become president, right?

Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein

Double Star is one of Robert Heinlein’s most enjoyable early period SF novels, a short and tightly-plotted story of out-of-work actor Lawrence Smith (aka “The Great Lorenzo”), who is unexpectedly tapped for a very important acting job, to impersonate an important politician named John Bonforte who has been kidnapped. Initially the job is supposed to be just short-term until the real guy can be rescued, but as things drag out, this becomes more difficult. Even more surprisingly, Lorenzo finds he is actually getting quite good at impersonating Bonforte, and has started to understand and sympathize with his politics as well. But how far can this situation go before somebody blows his cover…

Published in 1956 and winner of the Hugo Award, this book is perfectly paced, with great supporting... Read More

The Soldiers of Halla: Finally, some answers!

The Soldiers of Halla by D.J. MacHale

It’s been a few years since Bobby Pendragon first found out he was a Traveler. He’s been all over the territories of Halla, trying to thwart Saint Dane’s plans to throw all of Halla into chaos. Now the final battle is here. Can Bobby and his friends kill Saint Dane, or will all of Halla be forced to live in the terrible universe he has created?

The Soldiers of Halla, the final PENDRAGON book by D.J. MacHale, begins with Bobby learning who he is, where he came from, and what happened to his family — all in one huge infodump. I’m not sure why Bobby couldn’t know these things before... (Well, actually, I do know why — it’s because MacHale likes to withhold information for dramatic effect, even if it doesn’t make sense to the plot. This happens freq... Read More

Wyrd Sisters: Fun and Endearing

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

Wyrd Sisters is a fun, lively book. It’s definitely a bit on the light side compared to some of Pratchett’s later works – more parody and less satire, if you like – but there’s nothing wrong with a jocular, easy-going read. Indeed, while it perhaps lacks something of the punch one might find in Mort or Small Gods, this installment is probably one of the better entry points for DISCWORLD, readable and endearing.

This is of course especially true if you’re a Shakespeare fan, in which case Wyrd Sisters easily eclipses Guards! Guards! as the definitive Square One for the series. As hinted by the title, Wyrd Sisters is basically Pratchett’s parody of Shakespearean theater (specifically MacBeth, ... Read More

Acceptance: Easy to admire, hard to love

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

(Warning, this review may contain spoilers for the two previous SOUTHERN REACH books, Annihilation and Authority.)

If the reader believes the best theory put forth by the characters in Acceptance, the final book in Jeff VanderMeer’s SOUTHERN REACH trilogy, then it is the most original use of a certain standard SF trope that I’ve ever read. I do choose to believe the theory because it fits most of the... well, information — I can’t really use the word “facts” — we are given and because the author appears to confirm the theory later in the book.

That said, while Acceptance has rich, layered prose, strange, startling imagery and a... Read More

The Sirens of Titan: An early Vonnegut classic about the randomness of life

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

The Sirens of Titan is a tough book to review. And it’s not really SF at all though it adopts the trappings of the genre. The thing about Kurt Vonnegut’s books is that they are so deceptively simple. The prose is spare, humorous, ironic, and to the point. And yet the story is very ambitious, as it seeks to provide answers to some very basic questions. Why do we exist? What is the universe for? Do we have any free will to determine our lives? Should we have chicken or fish for dinner?

The story focuses on Malachi Constant, the richest man in America; Winston Niles Rumfoord, an older wealthy man who travels throughout the solar system with his dog Kazak, manifesting in various locations in space and time; Unk and Boaz, two buddies in the Martian Army preparing to invade the ... Read More

A Mirror for Observers: Aliens struggle over the soul of one young man

A Mirror for Observers by Edgar Pangborn

It's somewhat surprising that this 1954 International Fantasy Award winner has never found a very large audience in the SF genre. The writing style is reminiscent of Theodore Sturgeon or Ray Bradbury, very much focused on the characters and their inner thoughts and struggles, a big contrast with the more pulpy science and space-adventure tales featured in pulp magazines like Galaxy and Astounding.

I knew about A Mirror for Observers only because it was included in David Pringle's Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels. Although it is ostensibly the story of two undercover Martian Observers who battle over the heart and soul of a promising young boy, it basically breaks down to 65% characte... Read More

The Lost Continent: Possibly the finest novel of Atlantis ever written

The Lost Continent by C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne

The Lost Continent first appeared serially in the English publication Pearson's Magazine in 1899, and in book form the following year. The author, C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne, is not exactly a household name today, but, way back when, was an extremely popular and prolific writer. His serialized tales of Captain Kettle, also in Pearson's, were supposedly only second in popularity to the Strand Magazine's Sherlock Holmes stories, as submitted by Arthur Conan Doyle. But today, Hyne's reputation seems to rest solely on this wonderful novel of the last years of the continent of Atlantis.

The history of these final years is told by the soldier-priest Deucalion, who, at the book's opening, has just been recalled from his 20-year viceroyalty of the Atlantean province of Yucatan. On his return to his homeland, after that two-dec... Read More