SFF Reviews

Our most recent reviews are listed first. Use the tags to search for reviews of similar books.

Led Astray: A collection of Kelley Armstrong short stories

Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong by Kelly Armstrong

Kelley Armstrong has published several series of urban fantasy and paranormal novels, including her WOMEN OF THE OTHERWORLD contemporary fantasy series, in which werewolves, vampires, and other supernatural creatures live alongside humans, and the CAINSVILLE series, focusing on the lives in and around a town with mysterious supernatural elements. Her latest book, Led Astray, is a collection of twenty-three short stories, many of them set in the worlds created in her series, although several stories are stand-alone. This is an eclectic collection, primarily urban fantasy, but running the gamut from high fantasy to ghost stories to horror, with a few non-fantasy tales thrown in for good measure.

Some of the standout stor... Read More

Fourth Mansions: Thanks, Jen!

Fourth Mansions by R.A. Lafferty

Despite it having been given pride of place in Scottish critic David Pringle’s Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, and despite the fact that it has been sitting on my bookshelf for many years, it was only last week that I finally got around to reading R.A. Lafferty’s 1969 cult item Fourth Mansions. The author’s reputation for eccentricity, both in terms of subject matter as well as writing style, had long intimidated me, I suppose. But just recently, Jen, one of the managers of NYC sci-fi bookstore extraordinaire Singularity, was enthusing to me about her recent acquisition of a first edition of Lafferty’s 1970 short story collection Nine Hundred Grandmothers for only $40, and I suppose that her enthusiasm proved contagious in my case, as I manfully dove into Fourth Mansions Read More

The Invasion of the Tearling: I’m not warming up to this series

The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Erika Johansen’s The Invasion of the Tearling is the second book in a planned trilogy, the sequel to The Queen of the Tearling. Often, the second book in a trilogy reads like a bridge between the set-up and the thrilling climax. The Invasion of the Tearling is no bridge book. Johansen adds characters and drama while filling in some important back-story, most particularly the origin of the three kingdoms we see in this adventure. This book also has its own dramatic arc, even though it ends on a cliffhanger.

Kelsea Raleigh was an insecure young woman in Book One, filled with self-doubt and constantly worrying that she wasn’t pretty. She managed to assume the throne of the Tear and win the loyalty of her subjects. She ended the horrific tribute of slaves that her nation paid to the powerful... Read More

The Traitor Baru Cormorant: One of my new all-time favorites

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

(Foreword: actual rating: 5.5/5 stars. Do not read Dickinson’s short story of the same title; it’s a spoiler for the novel’s ending. Consider yourself forewarned. Also, please see my interview with Seth Dickinson which I'll be posting later today. It will include a giveaway of The Traitor Baru Cormorant.)

Breathtakingly original and carefully crafted, The Traitor Baru Cormorant by debut novelist Seth Dickinson is one of those very few works that straddle the line between “genre” and “literary” fiction. It’s the story of a girl: a lover, a traitor, a savant, an accountant, and above all, a daughter of a huntress, a smith, and a shield-bearer, but it’s also a story of oppression, of resistance, of identity, and of politics.  With a novel years in the making, Seth Dickinson brings us the heart-... Read More

Ready Player One: *tries to insert obscure 80s reference and fails miserably*

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

My childhood consisted largely of wizarding duels and Pokemon battles (sometimes both at once), so I was a little dubious about picking up Ready Player One, a nostalgia fest about pop-culture in the 1980s. What’s more, gaming culture is at the heart of the novel. The closest I got to videogames was playing Solitaire on my dad’s computer, and I’m not even sure that counts. I was more than a little bit ambivalent about the book…

Wade Watts (alliteratively named in the hope he’ll turn out like a superhero) has a dreary life. He lives in the stacks — Ernest Cline’s futuristic interpretation of a trailer park, in which trailers are stacked on top of each other in towers — with his aunt and her knucklehead boyfriend. He spends his days plugged into the OASIS, a virtual rea... Read More

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch: What if god were a lonely drug-pushing alien?

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch was the 10th and final PKD book I read last year after 40 years without reading any. I always felt as a teenager that I would get more from his books as an adult, and I think I was right. This one is a real mind-bending experience, deliciously strange and tantalizing with its ideas.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965) is one of the earliest PKD novels that deals overtly with drug use, hallucinations, and his thoughts on religion and the divine in our mundane lives. As usual, his near-future world is fairly dystopian, and his characters are everyday people trying to muddle through life. There are no superheroes, and his characters are filled with flaws. PKD was a champion of the downtrodden everyman, which makes sense since he himself was always struggling with poverty, mental i... Read More

State of Grace: Drugs, sex, and sunshine — what could go wrong?

State of Grace by Hilary Badger

State of Grace is Hilary Badger’s first Young Adult novel, and it is a doozy. If you put the Biblical concept of the Garden of Eden, Lord of the Flies, and 1984 in a blender, added teenagers with really heavy emotional baggage and a liberal sprinkling of futuristic pharmaceuticals, and turned it on, the result would be a fascinating examination of personal choice and free will (and a terrible smoothie).

State of Grace begins in media res: Wren lives with ninety-nine other teenagers in an apparent paradise, seven days away from the highly anticipated and mysterious Completion Night. They wear loose-fitting sungarb and play naked in a lagoon, sleeping with whomever they want (though never the same person two nights in a row, as per the Books of Dot, and the sex is hinted at rather... Read More

Hunter: Magical monster-hunting

Hunter by Mercedes Lackey

In Mercedes Lackey’s new young adult novel Hunter, post-apocalyptic science fiction mixes with magical fantasy to produce an adventure in the tradition of The Hunger Games and Divergent. A series of catastrophes called the “Diseray” — a corruption of Dies Irae — has hit our world: a nuclear bomb (blamed on Christians) was set off in the near east, the North and South Poles switched, plagues killed countless people, and storms have permanently grounded most aircraft. These disasters culminated in the Breakthrough, a permanent rift in reality that allows deadly magical creatures to invade our world from the Otherside. Luckily, along with all of the hostile magical monsters have come some friendly ones, called Hounds by humans, even t... Read More

Servants of the Wankh: Still trying to get off that crazy planet

Servants of the Wankh by Jack Vance

Servants of the Wankh (1969) is the second of Jack Vance’s PLANET OF ADVENTURE stories. It’s a direct sequel to City of the Chasch, which you’ll want to read first, though Servants of the Wankh has a short but thorough recap of the story so far. Adam Reith was stranded on the planet Carina 4269 after his spaceship crashed there. He is now back to full health, has formed a couple of friendships and a romance, and is still trying to get off that crazy planet.

Audio version

First, though, he has agreed to escort Ylin Ylan, the damsel in distress that he saved in the previous book, back to her country. He’s secretly hoping that her wealthy... Read More

Clover Honey by Rich Tommaso

Clover Honey by Rich Tommaso

Clover Honey by Rich Tommaso is a re-release of his first graphic novel, originally published in 1995, when Tommaso was twenty-three-year-old. I’ve never read anything quite like it. It’s a quick read — I think it took me all of forty-five minutes to read it — but I think it’s going to stay with me for some time to come. And I’m sure I’ll return to it. My initial impression is four stars, but I think with time I’d be willing to go higher. I suspect that the more time I spend with the book and thinking about it, the more it will grow on me.

Clover Honey is a black-and-white slice-of-life story that deals with the ... Read More

Last Man Volumes 1-3 by Balak, Sanlauille, and Uiues

Last Man Volumes 1-3 by Balak, Sanlauille, and Uiues

Usually the books I review here at fanlit are those I’ve either requested or because the publisher has noted I’ve reviewed earlier books by a particular author and so sends along that writer’s newest work. Thus, I’m already somewhat predisposed to enjoy most of what I review. But once you’re on the BLOOR (Big List of Online Reviewers), truth is you get sent a lot of books you never asked for (I know, I know — you bleed for me). Some you may wonder what the publisher is thinking (“Have I ever reviewed books on the undergarments of 14th century French monks?”), and you simply pass them on elsewhere. Others, though, you think, “I didn’t ask for this,” but then before you put it in the Not For Review pile, you have second thoughts: “It’s probably not a great idea, but who knows, I might like it.” So it goes in the Not for Immediate Review pile instead.
... Read More

The Witching Hour: Imaginary genealogies are more fun than they sound

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

I’ve always wanted to be the kind of reader who revisits certain books every year. In practice… it doesn’t always happen. The Witching Hour by Anne Rice is an old favorite of mine — I first read it twenty years ago (wow) and have gone through, I think, four copies of it, and the fourth is looking a little haggard — and with its climactic action set around Christmastime, I always wanted it to be an annual winter reread for me. But like I said… it doesn’t always happen. It’s a busy time of year, and such a long book, and…

Last year, I actually did reread it over the holidays, and found myself feeling a little differently about it, and I think I’ve put my finger on why. I recently devoured Samantha Ellis’s memoir How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I’ve Learned... Read More

Damiano’s Lute: Failed to engage me

Damiano’s Lute by R.A. MacAvoy

Damiano’s Lute is the second book in R.A. MacAvoy’s DAMIANO trilogy, which takes place in Renaissance Italy. In the first book, Damiano, we met a young man named Damiano Delstrego who was feeling befuddled because he was both a witch and a Christian. He had left his village with his lute and his talking dog. He had several encounters with the archangel Rafael, who acts as a sort of patron to Damiano and taught him to play the lute. Satan also seems particularly interested in Damiano’s life. At the end of the first book, Damiano has renounced his magic and his talking dog has died, leaving the young man bereft and lonely.

In Damiano’s Lute, Damiano is roaming the French countryside with a young man named Gaspa... Read More

Supersymmetry: A thriller with cool science and lots of heart

Supersymmetry by David Walton

Warning: May contain mild spoilers for Superposition

Supersymmetry is David Walton’s sequel to Superposition. While Superposition was a quantum physics murder mystery, Supersymmetry is a thriller. The action starts on page 8 and never really flags, and yes, the physics do matter.

In the first book, Jacob Kelley and his family battled an intelligent quantum entity they called the varcolac. They prevailed, but the struggle resulted in a quantum event that split the Kelley’s teenaged daughter Allesandra into two people (two points on a probability wave). Now fifteen years later, their wave has not resolved itself, and the twins, as they style themselves, have grown in... Read More

From a High Tower: Rapunzel as Annie Oakley

From a High Tower by Mercedes Lackey

The most recent addition to Mercedes Lackey’s ELEMENTAL MASTERS series of stand-alone retold fairy tales is a version of Rapunzel set in the Black Forest of Germany. Giselle (Rapunzel) is the natural daughter of a poor man who made a desperate deal that required him to give Giselle to a witch when she was born. The witch was an Earth Master who raises Giselle (who turns out to be an Air Master) as her own daughter. One day, when Giselle is locked in her tower bedroom while her mother is out of town, she lets a handsome man climb up her fast-growing golden hair. This turns out badly.

At this point the story loses its Rapunzelness as Giselle becomes a sharpshooter and decides to join Captain Cody’s traveling Wild West Show as an Annie Oakley type character. Since the show is touring Central Europe, Rosamund (the Red Riding Hood monster hunter from Read More

Konga: A somnolent stroll around Big Ben

Konga directed by John Lemont

Released in 1961, the U.S./U.K. co-production of Konga marked the first time that theater goers were shown a giant ape going bonkers in the heart of a major city since King Kong itself, 28 years earlier. Of course, fans had been given the 1933 sequel Son of Kong, but in that one, Kong, Jr. is more of a good-natured, oversized pet, and one who never makes it off Skull Island and into civilization, as had the old man. And in Mighty Joe Young (1949), although the titular big guy does engage in a mild temper tantrum, he is more fondly remembered today for his heroic efforts at a small-town, burning orphanage. In Konga, however, the ape is huge and the rampage is through the heart of London, and if Konga's fury is a bit on the somnolent side and his general appearance rendered somewhat tacky by dint of some truly subpar special FX, these two factors do not prevent the film f... Read More

WWWednesday; August 26, 2015

We'll just get right to it today.

Zeppelin (c) Ken Berman 2015

Awards:

The Hugo Awards were announced Saturday, August 22, in Spokane Washington at WorldCon. David Gerrold and Tananarive Due were the hosts. The event started late and ran very long, making it a normal awards event (I watched the Sasquan livestream, which should be available next week). The full list of awards can be found here:

Best NovelThe Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (See our Read More

Touch: A nearly perfect thriller

Touch by Claire North

Touch, by Claire North, took me completely by surprise. I’d never heard of Claire North. (Yes, I know. More about that later.) I hadn’t seen much pre-release buzz about the book. I don’t think I’d ever read a book from (Hachette imprint) Redhook before. I frankly thought the blurb sounded a bit too standard-horror-ish, but I picked it up anyway to try a few pages and see if it could draw me in.

Am I ever glad I did. Touch is a gloriously dark and almost perfectly executed novel. (More about that “almost” later, too.) It’s so good that I set out to get the author’s first novel, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, even before I finished Touch, and then read it before I got around to wr... Read More

The Son of Neptune: The second instalment of a series steadily cranking into gear…

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

Warning: Contains some mild spoilers for The Lost Hero

First, a brief reminder of where this book stands among Rick Riordan's collection of YA novels: it is the second book in the HEROES OF OLYMPUS five-part series, which itself is the sequel series to the original PERCY JACKSON books. Suffice to say, if you're unfamiliar with the stories published before this one, you're likely to be hopelessly lost in understanding what's happening here. Head back to Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and work your way up.

For those who are all up-to-date, you'll be pleased to know The Son of Neptune doesn't waste any time in throwing you back into the action. As realized by his friends at the... Read More

Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days: Two novellas by Alastair Reynolds

Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds

For years I’ve been planning to read Alastair Reynolds’ REVELATION SPACE series; I even own all the books in audio format. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. But when I got an audio copy of Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days, a collection of two stand-alone novellas set in Reynolds’ world, it seemed like the right time and place to jump in.

Diamond Dogs is an exciting horror adventure that was, honestly, just a touch too gruesome for me, even though I loved the plot and scenery. The story starts in Chasm City, a place I can’t wait to explore in Reynolds’ novel called Chasm City. A wealthy eccentric man has assembled a team of adventurers that he takes to the mysterious Blood Spire on the planet Golgotha. (Sounds ominous, doesn’t it?) This black metallic tower contains a serie... Read More

The Saturn Game: The slippery slope of fantasy role-playing

The Saturn Game by Poul Anderson

Poul Anderson’s The Saturn Game, published in 1981, is a pre-Internet era exploration of role-playing games and their effect on the human psyche, which won the 1981 Nebula and the 1982 Hugo awards for best novella.

On an eight-year long voyage to Saturn, one of the more popular ways for the crew and colonists to pass time is becoming involved in psychodramas, a verbal-type role-playing game. But when a team of four people from the spaceship lands their smaller craft on Saturn’s moon Iapetus to explore the terrain, the terrain reminds three of them so strongly of the Tolkien-esque fantasy that they have spent countless hours creating and imagining that it begins to affect their judgment and discernment. Bad decisions start to cascade as fantasy impinges on their exploratory mis... Read More

Fool’s Quest: Yeah, we both cried. Got a problem with that?

Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb

Last year I gave Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Assassin five stars and put it on my list of Best Books of 2014. Which puts me into a bit of a bind with her follow up, Fool’s Quest, since it’s even better. Clearly it will go on my Best of list for this year, but what about that rating? I may have to petition our fearless leader Kat for a sixth star waiver, or a five-plus category. Because in my mind, Fool’s Quest absolutely deserves that distinction. So, Kat, can I have 6 stars?

Sorry, Bill. We’re not equipped for that. But since I want to give Fool’s Quest 4.7745 stars, how about we average and round to 5 stars?

Sounds good. One of the reasons I fou... Read More

To Hold the Bridge: An inventive and engaging collection of short-stories

To Hold the Bridge by Garth Nix

This is not the first time Garth Nix (or at least his publisher) has released an anthology like this one: a short story collection that heavily emphasizes the inclusion of a brand new tale set within the Old Kingdom (the setting of his most famous works: Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen and the recent Clariel) but which also contains an eclectic assortment of unrelated stories.

The last anthology was called Across the Wall, and as with that book there may be a few readers disappointed in the fact that only the first story is set within the Old Kingdom – and unlike Across the Wall, it does not contain any familiar characters from the rest of the series, only the city of Belisaere and the Guilds that make up such a large part o... Read More

Now Wait for Last Year: A virtual compendium of Dick’s pet themes

Now Wait for Last Year by Philip K. Dick

A virtual compendium of many of Philip K. Dick's pet themes, tropes and obsessions, Now Wait for Last Year, the author's 17th published sci-fi novel, originally appeared as a Doubleday hardcover in 1966. (As revealed in Lawrence Sutin's biography on Dick, the novel was actually written as early as 1963 and rewritten two years later.) Phil was on some kind of a roll at this point in his career, having recently come out with the masterpieces The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and Dr. Bloodmoney, and Now Wait for Last Year is still another great one for this important writer.

In it, the Earth of the year 2055 is in big trouble, fighting a protracted, losing war with the 6-f... Read More

The Autumnlands: Story, visuals, and theme come together for a very strong beginning

The Autumnlands Volume 1: Tooth and Claw by Kurt Busiek, Benjamin Dewey, Jordie Bellaire

The Autumnlands, written by Kurt Busiek and visuals by Benjamin Dewey (art) and Jordie Bellaire (color), is an intriguing graphic series with lots of action, a complex character, and a visually and intellectually stimulating setting. The first six issues, which you can get separately or bundled into Volume One Tooth and Claw, resolve a particular arc, but are really mostly set up for further exploration of world and character.

The story is set in a world peopled by animal races, themselves apparently separated into those who dwell in seventeen floating cities — masters of magic and technology — and land-dwellers (“the lesser ones”) who slave for them. The magic of their world, however, is failing, and so in a last ... Read More