SFF Reviews

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Supreme Power: Powers and Principalities by J. Michael Straczynski

Supreme Power (Vol. 2): Powers and Principalities by J. Michael Straczynski

In this volume, the shinola hits the fanola. Turns out alien superbeings don’t like being lied to or manipulated in the way they were raised . . . Who knew?! In Powers and Principalities, the second volume of Supreme Power, Hyperion now knows that the government sponsored fiasco that he calls his childhood was all just a scam so the U.S. of A. could have a super-weapon in its back pocket. He’s not impressed. Add to that the awakening of a possibly schizophrenic super-woman who wants to help Hyperion take over the world and the fact that the government’s only other superhero, Joe “Doc Spect... Read More

Ares: Bringer of War: A great new take on an old tale

Ares: Bringer of War by George O'Connor

Ares: Bringer of War is George O'Connor's sixth title in his OLYMPIANS series of graphic retellings of Greek myths for younger readers. Short take? I'm wondering why the Hades I don't own the first five, an oversight I will quickly rectify. Long take below . . .

I absolutely loved this book. Beginning with its opening segment on the distinction to be made between the two gods of War in the Greek pantheon: Athena and Ares. O'Connor begins with Athena, whom he calls the "the goddess of martial skill. Of formations, of strategy. Of training realized and wisdom applied." And the art presents just such a calculating image of war, with its highly symmetrical depiction of Greek soldiers, their feet, spears, bodies, and shields precisely aligned, all against a cool blue background. But war isn't always so neatly organized; it is often "chaotic, unpr... Read More

Ha’Penny: How do you make a difference in a dictatorship?

Ha’Penny by Jo Walton(May contain spoilers for the previous book, Farthing.)

Ha’Penny is the second book in Jo Walton’s dark alternate history series SMALL CHANGE. The “small change” that created this world is the refusal of America to get involved in the war in Europe, in 1941. From that small “counterfactual” sprang a world where, by 1949, Europe is largely under the control of Hitler, who is at war with Stalin for the rest. Britain negotiated a “peace with honor” with Germany and has now fully embraced fascism. Many Brits know about the death camps in Europe, but they don’t care. Jews in Britain have their freedoms and rights limited daily, and the newspapers and radios screech about terror attacks from Jews or Bolsheviks.

Like Farthing, Ha’Penny alternates narration bet... Read More

The Apocalypse Codex: Bob takes on an American televangelist

The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross

Charles Stross continues to entertain with The Apocalypse Codex, the fourth novel in his LAUNDRY FILES series. I suppose you could read this without reading the first three books, but it’d be better to start with book one, The Atrocity Archives. For this review, I’ll assume you’re familiar with the story so far.

Bob has been unintentionally working his way up in the Laundry, the secret British agency where computer scientists, mathematicians, and physicists have, by accident, become sorcerers. For every case he’s been on, Bob has sort of bumbled his way into a successful outcome just by using his brains and creativity. Now he’s being groomed for a leadership position, so he needs some people skills. A lot of his preparation involves sitting in boring management training classes and seminars where he has to use role... Read More

Storm Front: Things can only get better…

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Despite having missed the bandwagon by more than a decade, I am finally reviewing the opening novel of THE DRESDEN FILES: Storm Front. And not without a little caution, for the series has a hardcore fan following and is now a benchmark in urban fantasy with almost cult status. In an interview, Butcher said he was trying to write the perfect story, the one that makes you laugh and cry, and end the book with a glowy satisfied feeling. I was not left feeling glowy or satisfied, but hey — Butcher did say he’s still searching for that perfect story. Maybe it’ll crop up somewhere along the next fifteen novels in the series…

Harry Dresden is a professional wizard, as it says in his ad in the yellow pages. He finds lost items and carries out paranormal investigations, and, for more vanilla requests, consults and advises, too. Read More

The Hydrogen Sonata: The final CULTURE novel

The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks

The Gzilt civilization is as old as the Culture, and their technology is roughly equivalent, too. Although the Gzilt were invited to join the Culture when it was created, they declined, in part because of the Book of Truth. The Gzilt are proud of their Book of Truth because, unlike so many other culturally significant texts, theirs actually predicted many technological achievements. So, the Gzilt figured they were special, declined to join the Culture, and now they’re preparing to Sublime.

Sublimation allows a civilization to exist in a higher, largely incomprehensible dimension. No one understands exactly what it is, but a civilization’s people and AIs do leave our space for a better one. Some old Culture ships have returned from the Sublime and mathematicians can prove that it exists. Still, it’s a big step.

And if that’s not clear enough: sublimation is a big-... Read More

To Honor You Call Us: Surprisingly good military science fiction

To Honor You Call Us by H. Paul Honsinger

The term “military science fiction” has, at times, been misused. The military part of the science fiction gets lost, and in essence you have something that loosely approximates combat in the future. To Honor You Call Us, book one of H. Paul Honsinger’s MAN OF WAR series, is not cut from that cloth and it was almost shockingly good.

Max Robichaux is a young Union Space Navy Lieutenant with a history. He’s made mistakes in the past, both in terms of his military career and some extracurricular activities. The great thing about Max is that he is not afraid to fight and take chances. The bad thing about Max is that he is willing to take chances.

The human race is engaged in a war with an alien species known as the Krag, a zealot race determined to exterminate us because of an insult to their faith. The war has raged for many yea... Read More

Farthing: A country-house murder mystery in a dark alternate timeline

Farthing by Jo Walton

At first glance, it seems like Farthing, Book One in Jo Walton’s SMALL CHANGE trilogy, could have been written by Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers or Elizabeth George. At a house party in the home of an aristocratic British family, a guest is found dead, his body staged to throw suspicion on another guest specifically. Soon clouds of secrets, lies, betrayals and adulteries fill the air. Peter Carmichael, the Scotland Yard Inspector sent to investigate, must fight his way through those clouds, dealing with aristocratic privilege and interference from his own higher-ups, if he is to reveal the truth.

There’s nothing science-fictional about that, you might think, except for one small change. In the world of Farthing, America did not enter World War II. Britain and Germany met in 1941 and agreed to a treaty — “peace with ... Read More

The Flight of the Silvers: Did Not Finish

The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

Daniel Price’s The Flight of the Silvers is a 600-page story about a half-dozen people who are pulled from the end of the world into an alternate Earth, where they become the subjects of scientific scrutiny, partially for their origin stories and partially because each evinces a “weirdness” — some sort of power involving the manipulation of time. When their laboratory residence is attacked by a group who fear these “breachers” will cause the end of their own world, the “Silvers” take off on a cross-country trek seeking answers in a possible sanctuary, a refuge they heard of via the future self of one of them.

The premise is an interesting one and certainly beginning with the literal end of a world is a pretty wild opening. But then, to be honest, once the pace goes downhill a bit (it is understandably hard to maintain apocalyptic l... Read More

Sourcery: Wizardry vs. Sourcery

Sourcery by Terry Pratchett

Sourcery begins as Ipslore the Red is about to die — or, more accurately — it begins as Death is coming to collect Ipslore’s soul. Wizards can see Death, so some plan to negotiate terms before departing.

Ipslore is an eighth son and a wizard. Banished from Unseen University for marrying and having children, Ipslore manages to create a magic staff for his own eighth son, a newborn he has named Coin, just before he dies. Coin, being the eighth son of an eighth son, is not just a wizard — he’s a sourcerer. And instead of dying, Ipslore transfers his being into the staff, cheating Death, so that he can guide Coin’s destiny.

What’s the difference between a sourcerer and a wizard? It’s not that sourcerers are more powerful than wizards so much as wizards are not particularly powerful at all. Sourcerers are powerful like gods. According to the L... Read More

The Fuller Memorandum: I can’t get enough of THE LAUNDRY FILES

The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross

I just can’t get enough of THE LAUNDRY FILES. This series has almost everything I want in an urban SFF adventure — an intelligent hero with a wry sense of humor and a great voice; an eclectic supporting cast; a fast pace with lots of action and plot twists; a cool mix of fantasy and science fiction; occasionally odd (and interesting) structural choices; a reverence for geek culture; and a smattering of computer science, mathematics, quantum physics and neuroscience. And Lovecraft. I love it.

In The Fuller Memorandum, the third LAUNDRY FILES novel, things start badly for Bob after he accidentally kills a bystander during a mission. He’s sent home to await an inquiry. That’s pretty bad, but soon things get worse. His enigmatic boss goes missing, there ar... Read More

Inked: An OK beginning went downhill fast

Inked by Eric Smith

Inked, by Eric Smith, was a solid if uninspiring YA book for much of the first half, albeit with some grating issues, but a downturn in the latter part of the book greatly lowered its entertainment value, leading to a "not recommended" judgment. As usual in these cases, this will be a relatively short review, as I prefer not to pile on an author whom I’m sure put a lot of hard work and love into their work.

The story centers on 18-year-old Caenum and his best friend Dreya, who is slightly older. Their ages are important because in this world, people are “inked” at age eighteen — given magical tattoos that determine their role in society for the rest of their lives, whether it be farmer (one such has an apple tree tattoo on their back), a florist (ivies vining up one’s arm), goldsmith, or assassin. When Caenum’s turn arises though, the arrival of an apprentice scribe named Kenzi thro... Read More

Hawk: Feels more like the earlier novels

Hawk by Steven Brust

"My heart gave a thump. It had been doing that a lot lately. I wished it would stop. I mean stop giving random thumps, not, you know, stop." ~Vlad Taltos

Note: This review contains spoilers for previous novels in the series.

Hawk is Steven Brust’s fourteenth (and latest) novel about Vlad Taltos, a charming assassin living in Dragaera. Over the past 31 years, fans of this series have been through a lot with Vlad and Loiosh, Vlad’s flying reptilian familiar.

We first met Vlad when he was at the top of his game, running the Jhereg criminal organization of Adrilankha. Then he married Cawti, who also used to be an assassin but later became a social revolutionary. The change in her worldview was too much for the marriage to handle and they separated, but that didn’t stop Vlad from betraying the Jhereg in order to save Cawti from being executed. T... Read More

City of Masks: A promising start to a new fantasy trilogy

City of Masks by Ashley Capes

Whenever I see the words "book one" or "first in a series" on the cover of a book, I'm always a little leery about whether or not it's going to end on a cliff-hanger. There's a difference between a trilogy that's essentially just one story divided into three parts, and a trilogy that's composed of three relatively self-contained tales.

As the first in THE BONE MASK TRILOGY by Australian poet Ashley Capes, City of Masks is enough of its own story to leave you satisfied, with just enough plot-threads left over for the next book to continue. So if you're like me and have an aversion to cliff-hanger endings, rest assured that you won't find one here.

In keeping with the trifold theme, there are three major POV characters at work in City of Masks, each with their own distinct storyline. Though two of these ... Read More

Those Who Watch: Compulsively readable and quite touching

Those Who Watch by Robert Silverberg

There is a certain aptness in the fact that I penned this review for Robert Silverberg’s Those Who Watch on January 15, 2015. That day, you see, happened to be Silverberg’s 80th birthday, so my most sincere wishes for many more happy and healthy birthdays must go out to the man who has become, over the years, my favorite sci-fi author.

These days, of course, Silverberg is one of the most honored and respected writers in his chosen genre; a multiple winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards, not to mention a Science Fiction Grand Master. Hard to believe then that, back in 1959, Silverberg, facing a diminishing market for his work and chafing under the literary restrictions of the day, announced his retirement from the field. Since 1954, he’d already come out with some 15 sci-fi novels, plus ... Read More

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