SFF Reviews

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Hollow City: I wanted to love it, but ended up only liking it

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Hollow City picks up almost immediately after the events of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the first book in the MISS PEREGRINE’S PECULIAR CHILDREN series. From the very beginning Hollow City is an action-packed adventure in all the places that the first book was a thoughtful, eerie mystery. I enjoyed the change of pace Ransom Riggs set in this sequel, though this new territory brought with it its own problems. (Please note: this review will contain spoilers throughout due to the mysterious nature of the first book. Some points I will be discussing were not known until most of the way through Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children but I have found them integral to talking about Hollow City... Read More

The Demolished Man: The first Hugo Award winner

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

If I had read The Demolished Man back in 1952 when it was first published, I would have given it 5 stars, no question. But in 2014, with 60 years of refinements in the genre, it suffers from some very dated dialogue and characterization, and some really condescending portrayals of women. I'm afraid the present value of the book is 4 stars.

Having said that, The Demolished Man remains an impressively-imagined story of a future society shared by telepaths and normals, and the attempt by wealthy megalomaniac industrialist Ben Reich to stage and get away with murder in a society where the police and many others can read thoughts and memories. It's an exciting and pulpy adventure, and presages the cyberpunk genre by over 30 years (William Gibson’s Neuromancer Read More

A Place Called Armageddon: Deftly written historical fiction

A Place Called Armageddon by C.C. Humphreys

“I am Constantine Palaiologos, emperor, son of Caesars. I am a baker, a ropewright, a fisherman, a monk, a merchant. I am a soldier. I am Roman. I am Greek. I am two thousand years old. I was born in freedom only yesterday. This is my city, Turk. Take it if you can.”

In C.C. Humphreys’ novel A Place Called Armageddon, it’s 1453, and the Byzantine Empire is an empire only in name. Its last bastion is Constantinople and the brilliant, arrogant young sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmet II, has his sights set on it, set on completing his father Murad’s work in eliminating his Greco-Christian foes once and for all. Murad was everything his son was not — statesman, soldier, commander — and Mehmet’s accession to the throne saw him immediately shadowed by his father... Read More

Lord Kelvin’s Machine: A steampunk adventure with time paradoxes

Lord Kelvin’s Machine by James P. Blaylock

James P. Blaylock returns to Victorian England in another steampunk adventure with scientist Langdon St. Ives and his nemesis, Dr. Ignacio Narbondo. Lord Kelvin’s Machine contains three related stories which each feature a fictional infernal device created by inventor Lord Kelvin. I listened to the excellent audio version which was produced by Audible Studios, is just over 8 hours long, and is narrated by Nigel Carrington.

In the prologue of Lord Kelvin’s Machine, Dr. Narbondo murders Langdon St. Ives’ beloved wife Alice which throws St. Ives into a funk. Part 1, titled “In the Days of the Comet” begins a year later. St. Ives has been depressed since Alice di... Read More

The Sorcerer’s House: Beautifully otherworldly

The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe

In 2010, Gene Wolfe published The Sorcerer’s House, a surprisingly accessible novel using standard fantasy tropes to tell an interesting story about families, legacies, and lies. Wolfe returns to the style of his very early works with a book that uses letters and notes to tell its tale.

Baxter Dunn, recently released from prison after serving three years for fraud, has ended up in the town of Riverscene. When he explores an abandoned house, he discovers — much to his surprise, having believed that he was completely broke — that he owns it. Things get stranger until Bax is dealing with werewolves, vampires, magical devices, and a house that grows and shrinks without warning. Bax also battles his perpetually-angry brother George, meets a set of twins connected to the house, and acquires a set ... Read More

The Magician’s Land: The trilogy that keeps on giving

The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

May contain spoilers for The Magicians and The Magician King

When we first met Quentin in The Magicians, he had it all: he’d graduated from the magical college of Brakebills, he was with Alice (kind and lovely and talented Alice), and he’d managed to get into the magical land of Fillory. He was also an insufferable asshole. Now, in the final instalment of Grossman’s MAGICIANS trilogy, Quentin has pretty much hit rock bottom. Not only has he been exiled from Fillory, but also from Brakebills, where he’d held a post as professor. Yet strangely he is at his most likeable and noble yet. The Magician’s Land will tie the loose ends of Quentin’s tale as he finally figures out what he believes is worth fighting for.

The story opens in a bookshop. Quentin h... Read More

Evensong: A slow start with a fantastic payoff

Evensong by John Love

In early 2012, John Love made some serious waves with his debut novel Faith, a critically acclaimed space opera that was about as dark as anything I’d read in the genre. Faith was a novel many reviewers expected to see on Best-of-2012 lists and final award ballots, but instead it disappeared without much noise at all. Whether that was due to the novel’s admittedly disturbing content, or its early January release date, or the fact that all of this happened in the early days of Night Shade Books’ well-documented collapse, no one knows.

So now it’s early 2015, and John Love’s second novel Evensong just came out in early January, almost three years to the date since Faith Read More

Horrible Monday: The Keeper by Sarah Langan

The Keeper by Sarah Langan

Bedford, Maine, is a town with one industry: the paper mill. It’s been poisoning the water and air for generations, and workers have all sorts of physical complaints from breathing sulfur and other toxic fumes, but if anyone thought about it, they’d know that the recent closing of the mill probably dooms their town.

But no one’s thinking about the mill and the town’s economy. Instead, they’re all focused on Susan Marley. She’s a silent, beautiful woman in her mid-20’s who lives in squalor, turning a trick now and then to stay supplied with Campbell’s tomato soup, which she eats straight out of the can. She appears nightly in just about everyone’s nightmares, making her a sort of literary ghost of Dickens’s Jacob Marley.

One of the people most haunted by Susan is her sister, Liz. Liz is in high school, and is planning to put Bedford behind her as soon as possible and nev... Read More

Edge of Dark: Humanity vs. the natural and the unnatural

Edge of Dark by Brenda Cooper

In Edge of Dark, Brenda Cooper comes back to the world she created in her RUBY'S SONG duology. In it, humanity has driven AI robots to the edge of the galaxy — to the titular “Edge of Dark” — and maintained their own perimeter of ships and space stations, called The Glittering, around habitable planets, keeping warmth and life to themselves. However, the robots (called, ominously, The Next) have come back, invading a lone scientific space station, killing most of the crew, and uploading the consciousnesses of a chosen few into “soulbot” bodies. As a result of this, human and robot denizens of the three worlds — the planets, the Glittering, and the Edge — are thrown together in a tense political, environmental, and metaphysical drama that spans the galaxy.

If this s... Read More

Murder on the Orient Elite: A short GRIMNOIR CHRONICLES story

Murder on the Orient Elite by Larry Correia

For fans who just can’t wait for the next installment in Larry Correia’s GRIMNOIR CHRONICLES, you can get a quick fix by reading Murder on the Orient Elite. In this short story (only 1 hour and 15 minutes on audio) which is set in an alternate 1937, not too long after the events of Warbound, Jake Sullivan is contacted by Dr. Wells to do an undercover job on Wells’ dirigible, The Orient Elite. Wells, the psychopathic (and maybe also paranoid) psychologist, suspects that one of his passengers is planning to blow up the luxury airship on its maiden voyage and he wants Jake to figure out who the saboteur is. When Jake comes aboard, he realizes the ship is full of his usual enemies — Russian, German, and Japanese agents. Jake must uncover the plot ... Read More

Annabel Scheme: A short, clever high-tech thriller

Annabel Scheme by Robin Sloan

Set in an alternate world in which Google's place is filled by a company called Grail (a brilliant name for a search engine, by the way), and Wikipedia's by "Open Britannica," Robin Sloan’s Annabel Scheme is difficult to categorize. Is it a detective novel? An urban fantasy? A technothriller with a touch of cyberpunk? It's all of those at once. It reminds me a little of Charles Stross's LAUNDRY FILES novels with the mix of high technology and demons.

Annabel Scheme is narrated by an AI in the Watson role, observing events through detective Annabel Scheme's high-tech earrings. That's clever, because the point of view follows Scheme and yet isn't her POV. It also means, though, that t... Read More

Lone Wolf and Cub: Lanterns for the Dead by Kazuo Koike

Lone Wolf and Cub (Vol. 6): Lanterns for the Dead by Kazuo Koike

The Lone Wolf and Cub series is well-known for the amount of research that went into allowing a lifelike picture of the historical era to be faithfully presented. This definitely adds to my enjoyment of the series, but added to this is the fact that while each individual story is generally self-contained there is a wider story arc that informs each of them both within and across volumes. Best of all is when specific details from previous tales make their way into later installments and not only add to the full picture we see, but show how Ogami Itto and Daigoro are growing and changing as they follow their bloody quest.

“Lanterns for the Dead”: One of the things I really like about the Lone Wolf and Cub series is the inside view it gives to the many facets of Tokugawa-era Japan. In this story we see a little bit... Read More

The Emerald City of Oz: Just another sight-seeing tour of Oz

The Emerald City of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The Emerald City of Oz is L. Frank Baum’s sixth OZ book. Here we find Dorothy Gale back at home in Kansas. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em are about to lose their farm and they despair of what will happen to their niece Dorothy since they can no longer support her. The three decide that Dorothy should go live in Oz with her friend Princess Ozma who has often tried to get Dorothy to move there. But sweet little Dorothy can’t leave Uncle Henry and Aunt Em living lives of hard labor back in Kansas, so she gets permission to bring them to Oz, too.

Thus, Dorothy gets to give her aunt and uncle a tour of Oz (oh no!) and introduce them to all her friends — Cowardly Lion, Hungry Tiger, Billina, Sawhorse, Wizard, Pumpkinhead, Scarecrow, Woggle Bug, etc, etc, etc. On her tour she also run... Read More

Book Chat: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Hi all. We thought we’d try something a little different around here. When Jana said she was planning on reading The Martian Chronicles, I mentioned I’d been thinking lately about rereading some Ray Bradbury and wondered about maybe having a little conversation about the shared experience. Nothing formal, no particular goals or constraints, not a shared review as we’ve done in the past — just a pair of readers bouncing some reactions off each other. So here it is. Let us know what you think about this idea/format going forward (sometimes it might be two readers, sometimes it might be a half-dozen of us chatting) — is this something you’d like to see more of? 

Bill Capossere: I can’t recall which Bradbury title it was I... Read More

The Digging Leviathan: Dreamy, peculiar, and sweet

The Digging Leviathan by James P. Blaylock

The Digging Leviathan is the first book in James P. Blaylock’s LANGDON ST. IVES/NARBONDO series. I’ve been reading these out of order, which doesn’t seem to matter. The books have some overlapping characters, settings, and/or concepts, but each stands alone. The Digging Leviathan features two teenage boys, Jim Hastings and Giles Peach, who are living on the coast of Southern California during the mid-20th century. Each is a dreamer and each has his own “issues” involving his father.

Jim lives with his uncle Edward St. Ives (who, I’m assuming, is a direct descendant of Langdon St. Ives, the eccentric Victorian scientist who stars in several of the books in this series) because Jim’s mother is dead and his father is insane. (Or is he?) Most of the time Jim’s father lives in a mental hospital, but when he ma... Read More

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