SFF Reviews

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THE WALKING DEAD (Vol. 1): Days Gone Bye by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore

THE WALKING DEAD (Volume 1): Days Gone Bye by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore

Before THE WALKING DEAD became a hugely popular television show, it was a hugely popular black-and-white comic book series. I have Volume 1: Days Gone Bye which includes the first story arc – one that appeared in the first six issues of the original comic. Days Gone Bye is scary, gross, and downright horrific. It grapples with close-to-home themes like family and how far you’d go for the ones yo love. It’s also a gory and sometimes dismal take on the zombie infection story. I’ve seen the first season of the television show of the same name and for me the comics are a far... Read More

The Hunt for Vulcan: Wonderful exploration of the search of the hidden planet

The Hunt for Vulcan: How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe by Thomas Levenson

With recently-demoted-from-the-planetary-ranks Pluto in the news lately thanks to the New Horizons probe, it’s a good time to recall when the solar system, rather than shrinking, used to be larger by one planet. That would be the planet Vulcan, which for decades was listed as lying just inside the orbit of Mercury. Why did people think Vulcan existed? More interestingly perhaps, why did so many people think they actually saw it? And what eventually convinced the scientific community that it wasn’t there? That’s the story of The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson, and the answer to that third question lies in the book’s subtitle: How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe. Read More

The Philosopher Kings: Surprises and philosophy, with a touch of Greek mythology

The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton

My jaw remained open whilst I read the last pages of Jo Walton’s The Just City, and for a little while afterwards. Released earlier this year, Walton’s first novel in a new trilogy saw the start of a story whose foundational ideas are so wild, so daring, that only an author with the fullest grasp of her talent could even think of trying to wrestle with them, let alone to actually subdue and then use them to write an engaging story.

In that novel, scholars and philosophers from different times and places are selected by the goddess Athene to build the ideal society depicted in Plato’s famous dialogue, The Republic. To accomplish that, she gifts them multiple robots from the future whom we later learn are able to develop self-awareness. Those same schola... Read More

The People of the Mist: An exciting lost-race novel… with no Quatermain

The People of the Mist by H. Rider Haggard

Sir Henry Rider Haggard, the so-called "Father of the Lost Race Novel," didn't write such stories featuring only Allan Quatermain and Ayesha, She Who Must Be Obeyed. For example, his 17th novel, The People of the Mist (1894), is a smashing, wonderfully exciting, stand-alone lost-race tale featuring all-new characters. But the first third of the novel is hardly a lost-race story at all, but rather one of hard-bitten African adventure.

In it, we meet Leonard Outram, a penniless British adventurer who is seeking wealth in the wilds of the "Dark Continent" after losing his family lands and estates (through no fault of his own, it should be added). He becomes involved in the rescue of a young Portuguese woman from the largest slaving camp in Africa, and this thrilling and quit... Read More

WWWednesday: November 25, 2015

Breatrix Potter; Peter Rabbit and Family

On this date in 1915, Albert Einstein presented the field equations of general relativity to the Prussian Academy of Sciences. On this date in 1952, Agatha Christie’s play The Mousetrap opened at the Ambassadors Theater in London, beginning what would be the longest continuous run of a play in history. 


The Kunkel Awards are new! The inaugural award will be given next year, recognizing excellence in video game journalism. Nominations must have been published in 2015, and they can be from any source, even a personal blog, as long as they are “ethical and excellent.” (Apparently for some it is about ethics in gaming journalism.) Categories include news reporting, feature writing, feature streaming and photography/illustrati... Read More

Grudging: Siege and sacrifice in a Spanish realm

Grudging by Michelle Hauck

Grudging, a newly published young adult fantasy and the first in a new series called BIRTH OF SAINTS from Michelle Hauck, is set in a country reminiscent of medieval Spain, where noble warhorses are a soldier's right arm and religious faith is a significant part of most people's lives, giving this fantasy an somewhat unusual cultural flavor.

Seventeen year old Ramiro wants nothing more than to be a respected soldier in his pelotón like his older brother Salvador: to fight in hand-to-hand combat with his sword and earn the right to grow a beard, the ultimate sign of manhood in his society. Ramiro’s people avoid the legendary witches who live in the swamps and kill strangers with the magic in their voices. But when barbaric Northern invaders besiege Ramiro's walled city of Colina Hermosa and threaten to murder all who live there, his f... Read More

Made to Kill: Should have kept it as a long short story

Made to Kill by Adam Christopher

In his afterword to his new novel Made to Kill, Adam Christopher explains how the idea first saw life as a long short story/novelette entitled “Brisk Money.” While this more extensive take on the story is still relatively slim for a novel, coming in at just over 200 pages, I have to admit that it seemed to me that Christopher would have been better off simply writing another “episode” of his narrative via another short story rather than trying to expand the original into something larger.

That original story germinated out of a question from a Tor roundtable: “If you could find one previously undiscovered book by a nonliving author, who would it be?” Christopher, a huge Raymond Chandler fan, thought he’d like to read Chandler’s “lost science-fiction epic” (Ch... Read More

Retribution Falls: Everything I wanted from a tale about sky pirates

Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

Confession: I love pirates. Stories with pirates in them have captivated me for as long as I can remember (and I’ll blame my family for sitting me in front of such movies as Muppets Treasure Island and The Princess Bride) and continue to bring me great joy. With this in mind, you can imagine how excited I was when I found a pirate story by one of my favourite authors, Chris Wooding. Retribution Falls is everything I could have asked for from a swashbuckling tale: there are old foes, daring escapes, dirty jobs, betrayal, heartbreak, and breathtaking battles. Also, in a fashion I have grown to love, Wooding delivers a myriad of things that I didn’t ask for but absolutely wanted. If it wasn’t already apparent, I loved this story about flying pirates.

Darian F... Read More

The Broken Sword: A dark fantasy classic

The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword (1954) was selected by David Pringle in his Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, and is highly praised by Michael Moorcock, whose character Elric of Melnibone and his demon-possessed sword Stormbringer are directly inspired by The Broken Sword. The audio version is narrated by Bronson Pinchot, who has an amazing vocal range and narrates with passion.

To get right to the point, this book is amazing and deserves a much wider readership. It’s one of the most powerful, tightly-written and relentlessly-dark high fantasies I’ve ever read. It’s chock full of Norse gods, demigods, Vikings, elves, trolls, goblins, sea serpents, evil witches... Read More

Three Moments of an Explosion: Not all winners, but more than enough to enjoy

Three Moments of an Explosion by China Miéville

I am, like many, a huge Miéville fan (I’ve lost track of how many of his books I’ve placed on my best-of-year lists). I’m also more of a fan of the long-form rather than the short form, especially in the genre, greatly preferring novels and novellas to short stories. So how, I wondered, would I respond to Three Moments of an Explosion? Would Miéville’s style and deep ideas win out, or would the short story form constrain him, robbing him of some of his tools? It turned out to be a bit of both, and though I was admittedly somewhat disappointed in the collection as a whole, I’d still call it well worth reading. I’m going to give my impression of some selected stories, then discuss the work in its entirety.

“Polynia” — Icebergs over London. The story, told from a young teen’s POV, is well told with some lovely imagery of the floating ic... Read More

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer: Explores madness, suicide, faith, the occult

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer by Philip K. Dick

Philip K Dick’s Radio Free Albemuth (1985) and VALIS (1981) were strange but moving attempts to make sense of his bizarre religious experiences in 1974 when a hyper-rational alien mind contacted him via a pink laser from space. He then wrote The Divine Invasion (1981) and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982), both loosely connected titles in the VALIS TRILOGY, although the latter was posthumously substituted for the unfinished The Owl in Daylight. Sadly, these were the final novels that PDK wrote before his death in 1982. The Divine Invasion is a complex retelling of the second coming of Christ to an Earth dominated by the fallen angel Bel... Read More

The Case Against Satan: An infernally fine piece of work

The Case Against Satan by Ray Russell

Up until a few years ago, the name "Ray Russell" was only familiar to me by dint of his work as a screenwriter on such marvelous horror/sci-fi films as Mr. Sardonicus (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Zotz! (also from 1962) and X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes (1963). It wasn't until I noticed a highly complimentary review of his 1962 novel The Case Against Satan, in Jones & Newman's excellent overview volume Horror: Another 100 Best Books, that I even knew he was an author at all, but I've since run across a quote from a guy named Stephen King, calling Russell's original novella Sardonicus "perhaps the finest example of the modern gothic ever written"! I'd been thus trying to lay my hands on ... Read More

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent Eric Anderson

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent Eric Anderson

Marvel’s X-Men franchise is long-running and crosses into so many different titles that it’s difficult to know where to start if you know only the movies, but want to start reading some actual comics. There are many excellent titles to start with, but the stand-alone 1982 graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills is the book I recommend for those who want the single best X-Men title that makes clear the thematic significance of the X-Men characters as outsiders persecuted for their differences.

Christopher Claremont’s story is not for those looking for light entertainment. He deals explicitly with the conne... Read More

Babel-17: A dazzling new-wave SF space opera from the 1960s

Reposting to include Kat's review of the new audio version.

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany

Babel-17 won the 1966 Nebula award for best novel, tying with Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon. Samuel Delany’s space opera novel is dated in many ways, but still holds up.

In the future, humans have colonized many star systems. Currently, the Alliance is engaged in a war with the Invaders, who, despite the name, are also human. The Alliance has intercepted many dispatches in a code they can’t break. They’ve labeled it Babel-17. Desperate, they turn to the inter-galactically renowned poet Rydra Wong to help them decipher it.

Wong is in her late twenties, a linguistic, semantic and telepathic genius, a starship captain, and so compelling that the general who meets with her falls in love with her almost instantly. There is more than a bit of fan... Read More

Curse of the Bane: Another scary adventure

Curse of the Bane (The Spook’s Curse in the UK) by Joseph Delaney

Curse of the Bane (2005) is the second book in Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE series. (The series is confusingly called THE WARDSTONE CHRONICLES in the UK and this book is titled The Spook’s Curse there.) The first book, Revenge of the Witch (The Spook’s Apprentice in the UK) was terrifying and though I really enjoyed it, I warned that it might be too scary for many kids in the target age range of 9-12.

Tom Ward is the thirteen year old apprentice of the regional Spook. Together they travel around the county banishing witches, ... Read More

The Anubis Gates: A very generous book

Reposting to include Katie's new review.

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

Tim Powers' fourth novel, 1983's The Anubis Gates, is a book that I had been meaning to read for years. Chosen for inclusion in both David Pringle's Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels and Jones & Newman's Horror: 100 Best Books, as well as the recipient of the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award in 1984, the book came with plenty of good word of mouth, to say the least. And, as it turns out, all the ballyhoo back when was ... Read More

Ubik: Use only as directed

Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

Warning: Use only as directed. And with caution.

Written in 1969, Ubik is one of Philip K. Dick’s most popular science fiction novels. It’s set in a future 1992 where some humans have develop psi and anti-psi powers which they are willing to hire out to individuals or companies who want to spy (or block spying) on others. Also in this alternate 1992, if you’ve got the money, you can put your beloved recently-deceased relatives into “coldpac” where they can be stored in half-life and you can visit with them for years after their death.

As Ubik begins, Glen Runciter, the head of one of New York City’s top anti-psi organizations, discovers that all the operatives of the top psi organization (whose telepathic fields they like to keep track of) h... Read More

Keeper of the Castle: Mel reconstructs an ancient Scottish Monastery

Keeper of the Castle by Juliet Blackwell

In Keeper of the Castle, the fifth book in Juliet Blackwell’s HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION series, a famous inspirational speaker has hired Mel Turner to oversee the reconstruction of a medieval Scottish monastery on his property outside San Francisco.

There are a couple of problems with this. One is that there are protestors outside the gates. One vocal protestor, a guy who wears a kilt, objects to the “theft” of a Scottish national landmark. Another problem is that the monastery seems haunted by two ghosts. One is a sad hungry woman who wears a red dress. The other is a sword-wielding Highlander who attacks any man who comes close. These ghosts are spooking Mel’s construction workers. The last problem is that there’s been an accident at the constr... Read More

The Divine Invasion: A dense gnostic allegory about salvation

The Divine Invasion by Philip K. Dick

Before his death, Philip K. Dick wrote several books about suffering, redemption, and the divine in the contexts of Christian Gnosticism, Jewish Kabbalism, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, anamnesis, and the dualistic nature of the ultimate divine being. After writing two books that explored his personal religious experiences in 1974, Radio Free Albemuth (written in 1976 but not published until 1985) and VALIS (written in 1978 but published in 1981), he wrote The Divine Invasion (written in 1980 but published in 1981), The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (written in 1981 but published in 1982), and an unfinished novel called The Owl in Daylight. Radio Free Albemuth was the fir... Read More

Bubba Ho-Tep: All shook up!!!

Bubba Ho-Tep directed by Don Coscarelli

It can be a tricky balancing act, coming up with the perfect film in the genre known as the horror comedy; a picture that is hilariously funny while at the same time being truly scary. And while there is no shortage of films with a decidedly uneven ratio of horror::comedy — such as 1960's The Little Shop of Horrors, 1974's Young Frankenstein and 1975's The Rocky Horror Picture Show — such films usually come off as pure comedies, only with a horror setting. But when the balance is just right, such as in The Ghost Breakers (1940), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948, and still probably the finest exemplar of the horror comedy ever made) and Spider Baby (1964), the result can be a timeless and wonderful entertainment. To my great surprise, to this latter category must be added Don Coscarelli's Bubba Ho-Tep, which has become a deserved cult item since i... Read More

The Shards of Heaven: Successful debut of Roman-Era historical fantasy mash-up

The Shards of Heaven by Michael Livingston

The Shards of Heaven is not author Michael Livingston’s first work. In fact, he’s already a prolific award-winning writer, though mostly focused in his world of academia. Livingston is a Professor of Medieval Literature at The Citadel in South Carolina. The Shards of Heaven is his first novel and he taps into his significant historical knowledge. He liberally expands his knowledge base with strong fantasy elements, though, not unlike George R.R. Martin’s A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, it’s heavy on history-laden fiction and lighter on the fantasy… at least in this first offering of what’s expected to be a trilogy.

Impending war bubbles across the Roman Empire as Livingston’s story starts. Julius Caesar has been assass... Read More

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: Running to write

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

I have just finished reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running for the fifth time. I love this book, and although I wouldn’t say it’s the greatest book ever written, it may be my favorite book ever written.

At the title suggests, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a series of essays and memoirs, mostly centering on running. However, it’s also the story of how Murakami went from running a jazz club in Tokyo to writing novels. Murakami also touches on his love of vinyl albums, his translating the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Carver into Japanese, and his love of Sam Adams beer. More substantially (for some readers) he shares his ideas about competition, aging, and rel... Read More

Immortal Beloved: A light but promising new start to a supernatural trilogy

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan

Nastasya is a burned-out immortal who has spent hundreds of years trying to avoid any sort of real emotion. With her equally jaded friends, she spends all her time in endless, meaningless carousing. She’s not very likable at first, but that’s the whole point. When her friend Incy’s casual cruelty gives Nastasya a wake-up call about what her life has become, she doesn’t like herself much either.

Horrified with herself, afraid of Incy, Nastasya does the only thing she can think of. She turns to River, a woman who offered her help many decades ago. River runs River’s Edge, a halfway house for immortals that serves as part rehab, part magic school. Troubled immortals go there to relearn an appreciation for life and to study positive spellcraft. Nastasya doesn’t quite fit in at first but eventually comes to enjoy her stay at ... Read More

The Best of Nancy Kress: A good storyteller who is fearless about wondering

The Best of Nancy Kress by Nancy Kress

Reading Nancy Kress’s work is a disconcerting experience for me. I love her ideas; there is no one quite like her when it comes to integrating a Big Idea into a believable world. On the other hand, I often don’t understand her characters’ motivations and frequently find them unengaging. Subterranean Press’s new story collection, The Best of Nancy Kress — edited by Kress herself — provides some insight into her ideas and her storytelling, and is an educational, entertaining read.

There are twenty-one stories in the book, each with a brief afterword by Kress (one afterword is so brief that it’s just a set of initials). Kress discusses each story’s history, and many of these are award winners; she also includes a few that are personal favorites or display writing a... Read More

Six of Crows: An exciting fantasy heist

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo, best known for her GRISHA young adult magical fantasy trilogy, explores a different corner of the Grisha world in her new young adult novel, Six of Crows. In the city of Ketterdam, an analog for Amsterdam, criminal gangs control the waterfront, and the surrounding area is a den of iniquity where everything can be bought and sold, including people. One of the gangs, appropriately called the Dregs, is led by 17 year old Kaz Brekker, nicknamed “Dirtyhands” because of his willingness to stoop to any level to maintain and grow his power and control. His young crew has been gaining in power and influence during the few years he’s been in charge of it.

One day a wealthy merchant abducts Kaz and tells him an incredible story: a scientist, who is being held in an impenetrable fo... Read More